Greetings again from the darkness. One tragic event can certainly derail a person’s life. It’s happened in plenty of other movies, often resulting in an engaging story of redemption. There is also nothing new about a friend or family member out to save a loved one who is in peril. Director Josef Kubata Wladyka co-wrote this script with the film’s star, Kali Reis, and though it covers some familiar territory from those two premises, it’s done so in a way that feels fresh and different and important.
Ms. Reis is an accomplished boxer, having held the title in two weight classes. Her heritage is part Native and part Cape Verdean, and she brings a personal perspective into the story of her character. Kaylee Uppeshau (Ms. Reis) slogs through days waiting tables at a greasy spoon, and sleeps at night in a women’s shelter, with a razor blade tucked in her cheek for protection. She was previously known in the ring as “KO”, but for the past two years her goal in life is to track down her younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrerro), who was abducted while walking home from Kaylee’s gym. The girls’ mother (played by Kimberly Guerrero, whom “Seinfeld” fans will remember as Winona) has moved on by running group therapy sessions for others who are grieving. She also makes it clear that Weeta was the favored daughter.
Kaylee gets a lead on her sister, and soon finds herself drawn into the world of sex-trafficking. It’s a dangerous situation as she goes up against local scumbags Bobby (Daniel Henshell) and his father Willie (Kevin Dunn), the white men who have a market for native girls. But Kaylee is not the typical victim. She has an intensity to match her body tattoos and multiple piercings (cheeks, nose, tongue, ears, naval), and the physical training to hold her own.
It’s her acting debut, and Ms. Reis excels as Kaylee in this thriller. She creates an engrossing character who is tough, yet relatable. Ms. Reis is intense, naturalistic, and believable. It’s quite a first-time performance, and she keeps us engaged all the way through. We are never really sure if Kaylee is after justice or closure, or whether she truly holds out hope that Weeta is still alive. The subject of Indigenous women and girls being abducted is also the focus of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, based on the superb book by David Grann. Whereas that film will look at history, filmmaker Wladyka and Reis make it personal and deliver a literal and figurative gut-punch.
In theaters and VOD beginning February 11, 2022