Not to be confused with Takashi Miike's Masters of Horror episode of the same name, Imprint is an effective, low budget supernatural thriller set on an Indian reservation. Though working with limited resources, director Michael Linn manages to maintain an unsettling sense of tension throughout.
Shayla Stonefeather, played well by Tonantzin Carmelo, is a prosecuting attorney trying a fellow Native American for murder in Denver. The boy, Robbie Whiteshirt (Joseph Medicine Blanket) and his brother loudly protest his innocence, but Shayla manages to get him convicted regardless. Shortly thereafter, Robbie is killed while trying to escape from custody. Stressed and conflicted over prosecuting one of her own, Shayla returns to her parents' home on the reservation to sort things out.
Soon after she arrives, strange things begin to happen. Shayla hears people walking around in the house and seeing shadows where none should be. Her mother Rebecca (Carla-Rae Holland) hears and sees nothing, thinking that Shayla is confused and upset by her father's deteriorating health. Shayla's father is suffering from some sort of catatonic condition, which is eventually fatal, and at times he will suddenly burst out shouting angrily. Shayla slowly begins to suspect that these outbursts may have something to do with her brother's disappearance several years ago.
In addition to her family issues, Shayla has to deal with all the folks on the reservation who think she has betrayed her people, going so far as to paint "apple" on her car. (An apple, it seems, is a Native American who has "gone white". They are red on the outside and white on the inside.) There is also the slightly annoying boyfriend the district attorney, the old flame from back home, and a possible ghost that may or may not be the spirit of the dead boy she prosecuted. All in all, quite a stressful time for Ms. Stonefeather.
Clearly working with very limited resources, Linn adeptly handles the supernatural elements of the film, mixing in heavy doses of Native American spirituality. The spiritual aspects can be a bit heavy handed, and at least twice descend into mild preachiness, but overall add to the otherworldly feel. There are a number of good jump scares that even startled an old horror pro like myself, and Linn manages to maintain a sense of dread throughout. He is subtle as well, with shadows moving in the background or the corner of our eye. We are perpetually waiting for the next scare, wondering if it will come from out of that dark closet or around that corner, and this makes for an engaging film.
This is not to say that Imprint is without flaws. It was made on a low budget, and many of the cast are obviously inexperienced. Carmelo is a standout in her portrayal of Shayla, elevating her occasionally stilted dialogue, but the rest of the cast is competent enough that we are never pulled too far out of the experience. The writing is good but not excellent, and the surprise ending is unexpected (I only guessed the ultimate twist a second or two before the reveal) but somewhat emotionally unsatisfying.
Having said all that, Imprint is greater than the sum of its parts. Working with limited materials, Linn and company have managed to construct an enjoyable supernatural thriller that allows the viewer an insight into a piece of American culture with which most viewers will have little experience.
The video quality is mediocre. Be advised that this review is based on a screener copy, and quality issues may well be resolved in the final release. However, on this disc things are mixed. The film is in 16:9 widescreen format. There are some shots, mostly panoramic outdoor scenes, of striking clarity and depth of color. Most of the film suffers from a bit of murkiness, though. Blacks are not deep and pure, but are more of a smudgy dark gray. Also, objects moving quickly in the foreground tend to blur while in motion and there are alternating vertical bands of brightness across the screen, making sections appear alternately lighter or darker.
The sound quality, presented in 5.1 Dolby digital, is also middle of the road, with the same screener caveats. The LFE track is rarely if ever used. Dialogue is clearly audible, but sound is simply spread out over all channels. No subtitles or alternate language tracks were available.
There are no extras apart from a theatrical trailer for the film, which trailer makes Imprint appear less appealing than it actually turns out to be.
The experience of watching Imprint is much better than one would expect from a cursory review of the plot. It is an enjoyably tense hour and a half. Michael Linn has created a respectable thriller from a unique viewpoint that is largely ignored in mainstream Hollywood films. The film is not perfect, but the creators are obviously talented and doing the best they can with the resources they have available. Its admitted flaws are more than made up for by the engaging characters, subtle imagery and delightfully unexpected scares.