Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. makes his feature-length debut with Wild Indian, an interesting if occasionally lifeless thriller that examines the trauma of America’s indigenous population through the characters of Ted-O and Makwa, two boys who cover up their murder of a schoolmate in the 1980s. 

Makwa is abused by his father, neglected by his mother and bullied at school. He has become such a vessel of anger and self-hatred that one day while out with Ted-O he shoots a boy in cold blood. He then convinces Ted-O to help cover up the murder by burying the body and remaining silent. However despite the abuse that surrounds Makwa, the mercilessness with which he pulls the trigger makes it clear that Makwa is sociopathic. 

This is confirmed when the film cuts to the present day. Makwa, now going by Michael, is a successful businessman reintroduced to us while playing golf. He has seemingly forgoed his indigenous heritage and has a white wife with whom he has one child and another on the way. He also has a penchant for choking random strippers. On the other hand, Ted-O (portrayed with a prickly benevolence by Chaske Spencer) is a recently released drug dealer who has been in and out of prison in the interim. He is riddled with guilt for his part in the murder and wishes to make amends, putting him on an inevitable collision course with his old friend. 

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But the focus remains primarily on Makwa, and that is ultimately the film’s undoing. Though in theory he is the embodiment of generations of indigenous trauma, guilt and self-hatred, Makwa, unsurprisingly given actor Michael Greyeyes’s cold performance, mostly comes off as a deranged and detestable figure for whom little sympathy can be reserved. By forcing us to spend so much time with such a man, the film at times feels as hollow and empty as Makwa, which is a shame given the thematic significance of his character. 

For this reason, Wild Indian never soars. It’s thematic depth at times feels unimpeachable due to its emotionless protagonist and the film’s intriguing ideas are left awash in a sea of nonchalant blandness. Had this been handled with a bit more care this could have been a deeply powerful and emotional film. However what we’ve got is a mildly engaging thriller whose unlikable protagonist belies its potential emotional potency.

★★★½

This review was written by Oli Gamble, member of the thatfilmbloguk team, American and Canadian Studies graduate, and co-host of the thatfilmbloguk podcast.