The Caribou Leg Woman is a spirit known to the Dene tribe of First Nations people who has the legs of a caribou and power over our most basic urges. Her story is (from what I have gathered) similar to the Deer Woman, a fairy-type spirit who, among other things, polices the romantic lives of young people to ensure they stay on the right path. Her powers vary from region to region, from benevolent to terrifying. In the short film AKOÓ, her duty as a protector is explored with a modern twist.

Lucy (Mandee McDonald) and Tonya (Veronica Spears) go to a bonfire in search of a fun party on a cold winter’s night. Shivering in the fire’s light, they joke about the Caribou Leg Woman coming to get them, and one of the girls gets a bit unnerved by the mere mention of the formidable spirit’s name. Enter creepy Bodi (Bryce Styan) and Jon (Luke Demmon). Bodi drugs the two girls and takes them on a ride to almost certain harm. He soon realizes that his devious intentions have not gone unnoticed by a silent yet enticing woman he picks up on the road.

Young people partying (albeit in sub-zero temperatures), guys chasing girls, and a legend mentioned in the dark of night are all classic horror tropes used here to bring the Caribou Leg Woman to life. The film starts off with funny, but the banter between Lucy and Tony, as they complain about cultural appropriation (I especially liked the “crazy-ass settlers” comment), is quite telling. In scenes such as this we get an earnest sense of their position as modern young indigenous women, while still getting the sense of fun reminiscent of a teen horror film. The supernatural threat is presented in a typical manner, but once the action starts, we wonder who the real monster is.

I couldn’t help but relate the action and plot of the film to the recent Sisters in Spirit Vigils held every October 4th Canada-wide, which honour the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. I might be overreaching here, but I got a sense of the Caribou Woman’s protective powers as she championed the safety of the two women. AKOÓ creates food for thought by giving these lost Aboriginal women the acknowledgement they deserve , and thus no longer making them invisible.

Directed by Amos Scott, and written by Scott and McDonald, with the cast also serving as the crew, AKOÓ is truly a heartfelt collaborative affair. Melaw Nakehk’o , you may recognize her from the Oscar-winning The Revenant, gives an effective performance as the Caribou Leg Woman. She portrays the spirit with power and menace, especially when confronting those who intend harm on the vulnerable. As short as the film may is, AKOÓ revitalizes the spirit of the Caribou Leg Woman in an accessible, contemporary and meaningful way.

Screens (as part of The Witching Hour):
Friday, October 21, 11:59 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the ImagineNATIVE website.