8.5

Blistering Thriller Catch the Fair One Shines a Light on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

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Blistering Thriller <i>Catch the Fair One</i> Shines a Light on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Written and directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka, Catch the Fair One could be considered a horror film of sorts—except the horror it depicts is not fantastical. It’s the very real and palpable outrage of young Indigenous women who go missing, never to be found by their family or loved ones. It’s such a common occurrence that Twitter timelines fill with #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), when a particular case might capture people’s attention and dominate the news headlines for a spell. But many stories go untold. As one of Catch the Fair One’s characters says, “Nobody’s looking because nobody cares.”

However, Kali “K.O.” Reis cares. A world champion boxer who uses her platform to speak about and fight for the Indigenous community, Reis is passionate about working with at-risk Indigenous girls and meeting with family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Wladyka happened to come across Reis on social media after getting into boxing himself.

Inspired by her sporting accomplishments and passion for amplifying Indigenous experiences, Wladyka set about to create a film around Reis, involving her as a co-writer for the story. The result is Catch the Fair One, which opens with a hypnotic sequence of Kaylee “K.O.” Uppashaw (Reis), a mixed-race Indigenous boxer preparing for the match of her life. Except she wakes up in a women’s shelter, and it quickly becomes evident that life hasn’t turned out the way Kaylee had dreamed of.

When her shift at a diner ends, her trainer/friend Brick (Shelito Vincent) drives Kaylee to a clandestine meeting with a private investigator. After she hands over the money she’s managed to scrounge up, a female pimp joins the trio and provides the information: Kaylee’s younger sister Weeta has been missing for two years, and she’s been seen among a group of trafficked girls, to be then picked up by a man named Bobby, who prefers Native girls.

Kaylee sets out on a solo rescue mission. The female pimp includes her in a batch of new recruits. “You’re bringing me grandmas now?” another pimp named Danny asks. Even so, Kaylee manages to find her way to Bobby (Daniel Henshall). A series of violent and fairly believable incidents follow, as Kaylee fights to survive and rescue her sister, climbing higher up the traffickers’ chain with each bout. Does she find justice—or make her peace in some way—in the end? It’s hard to say. “Where’s my sister?” she screams, when she meets the person in charge. “Do you think I remember each girl?” he retorts. The rage and anguish in Kaylee’s eyes shows how futile such a search can be.

Catch the Fair One is a grim and powerful watch. Its taut thriller structure keeps the story moving along. There’s not much time to be sentimental in Kaylee’s world, even during a terse yet emotional exchange with her mother Jaya (Kimberley Guerrero). Just like in the boxing ring, Kaylee has to be quick on her feet and land her punches when she gets the chance. The look and tone of the film carries a bleached bleakness. There’s very little respite in this barren and menacing landscape, with few chances to escape.

Reis’ performance as the older sister who feels a sense of guilt, is remarkable and carries the film through to its dark end. An untrained actor, she inhabits the role of this two-spirit Indigenous boxer with a ferocity that likely comes from her lived experiences. On the odd occasion that she smiles, her cheek piercings sink into her dimples, adding a sweet vulnerability to her otherwise intense persona. But it’s her unflinching stare, as if questioning us all about our collective apathy, that’s haunting. Henshall plays Bobby with an element of charm, showing just how sinister seemingly nice guys can be; Vincent’s role as Kaylee’s trainer is even more brief, however, Vincent is also a world champion boxer and a striking presence, and the short scene of Kaylee and Brick sparring to prepare for a match is like watching a poetry of punches.

There are some shortcomings. There are bits of dialogue or flashes of scenes that are slightly expositional. There are some scenes in which Reis is a little out of her depth. We don’t really get a sense of Bobby’s story—or the people in his orbit. How did it come to this? We don’t know. But maybe that’s not important. It can be argued that there is no need to humanize the human traffickers. There’s a long legacy of violence against Indigenous (and other marginalized) people that needs to be unpacked if we were to truly understand the systemic issues at play.

Instead, we need to keep the spotlight on Kaylee, and her search for her sister. The fight sequence that forms the opening scene occasionally weaves through the rest of Catch the Fair One. It makes you wonder—is this a dream or a nightmare? Either way it’s an uncomfortable film. And that’s the point—so that the next time we see a news headline followed by #MMIW, we don’t turn our eyes away so easily.

Director: Josef Kubota Wladyka
Writer: Josef Kubota Wladyka
Starring: Kali Reis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Chu, Michael Drayer, Shelito Vincent, Lisa Emery, Kimberly Guerrero, Kevin Dunn
Release Date: February 11, 2021


Aparita Bhandari is an arts and life reporter in Toronto. Her areas of interest and expertise lie in the intersections of gender, culture and ethnicity. She is the producer and co-host of the Hindi language podcast, KhabardaarPodcast.com. You can find her on Twitter. Along with Bollywood, Toblerone bars are one of her guilty pleasures.