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November 8, 2012

On the Ice

by Franz Patrick


On the Ice (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

When I think of Alaska, I default in imagining a picture-perfect tundra with a wind chill ferocious enough to force our muscles to work at a maximum capacity in order to generate as much heat as possible to prevent our bodies from turning into meat-flavored popsicles, with moderately-sized igloos and portly eskimos swathed in fur on the foreground. “On the Ice,” written and directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, dispelled my romantic perception of Alaska by drenching its story in Alaska as is, specifically, in a small town that could pass as any other town taken from the heart of America, the only difference being that the land was covered in snow for the most of the year and the sun would not sleep for months at a time. Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) noticed his best friend, Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan), being involved in a physical altercation with James (John Miller) from several feet away. When Qalli tried to stop them, he ended up with Aivaaq’s knife in his hand and accidentally stabbed James in the neck as they fell on the ice. When Aivaaq regained consciousness, who, apparently, had been smoking meth prior to the fight, he became convinced that he was responsible for killing James. Qalli said nothing to correct his friend’s assumption. After panicked deliberation, the duo chose to hide the corpse and the blood-soaked snow. MacLean constructed an increasingly tense thriller by continuing to observe and not judge as the aftermath of the murder, masked as an accident, began arousing suspicions of foul play. I enjoyed watching the inexperience of Qalli and Aivaaq, from the way they cleaned up the crime scene in a hurried and messy manner to the way made up nervous stories that did not quite match whatever evidence was found on the field during the town’s search of the corpse. Still, even though what they did was wrong, I found it strange that I did not want them to get caught. It probably had something to do with the fact that they were so young and had so much potential to be defined simply as a killer or an accessory. Aivaaq recently learned that his girlfriend was with child. Meanwhile, Qalli was leaving for college in four months. Both had something big to lose. But someone had to take responsibility. If James was a member of my family, I would want an answer, even if it was painful, as to what really happened during that seal hunting trip. In the very least, the family of the murdered young man deserved closure. Patkotak impressed me in his believable portrayal of the very conflicted Qalli. He was consistently solid in juggling sadness, guilt, and fear hidden underneath stoicism. The easier path would have been to overact in order to ensure that each of these emotions were being communicated in some way. And yet he downplayed them all–very smart because it was almost like he dared us to look closer into his character. I wanted to know if he felt genuinely sorry for what had happened and understand the mechanisms of how he intended of getting away with accidentally killing somebody. It was a breakthrough performance for a young actor in a feature film and I would love to see his next foray. Under MacLean’s careful writing and direction, we could feel his love for his Alaskan environment and subjects in every square-inch of “On the Ice.” It offered no easy solution which made the experience all the more gripping.

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