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'Catch the Fair One' is a bleak, powerful thriller

Kali Reis in 'Catch the Fair One'
Courtesy of IFC Films
Kali Reis in 'Catch the Fair One'

There’s a moment in Catch the Fair One when Kaylee “K.O.” Uppashaw, a former champion boxer, is standing in front of a missing persons poster of her sister, and it’s one of the few tiny indications we have of the enormity of the problem the movie is tackling. Because surrounding the poster are many, many others, all showing missing Indigenous women who have essentially no chance of being found, because no one but their families is looking for them.

That such an insidious fact underlies this small, absorbing, exceedingly bleak thriller isn’t a surprise if you’re familiar with the movie’s star and co-writer, Kali Reis, herself a champion boxer with a Native mother, and an advocate for Native rights and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement. I, personally, did not know of Reis before this, but my goodness, I do now.

As we meet Kaylee, she’s setting out to infiltrate a human trafficking ring, as she’s gotten some indication her missing sister may have been abducted by the traffickers. Why is she doing this herself, alone? Do we really need to ask? We hear a few other stories about similarly disappeared women and it’s clear no one with authority has any interest in dealing with this. But Reis and director/co-writer Josef Kubota Wladyka don’t approach this as an “issues” movie—they tell this specific, local story of Kaylee entering this diseased world and finding the rot lying underneath.

That part of the story is simple enough, and something we’ve seen before (without the added layer of what’s happening in Indigenous communities), but even with that Wladyka stages it in a way that it feels dreadful and new. He restricts much of our perspective to Kaylee’s world, with just a few scenes outside of her view, and it gives the film a queasy, grinding, pulsating energy. Reis is exactly what she needs to be, and is very, very good at it: she’s quietly intense, a raging package of potential energy, and while it’s not apparent she even thinks she can succeed at what she’s trying to do, it couldn’t be more obvious that if she doesn’t do this, no one will, and her sister will just float off into the statistical ether. She’s a riveting presence, and she knows just what’s called for here and doesn’t try to do more. Catch the Fair One is a thriller, certainly, but these aren’t cheap thrills—these are brutal truths that are far too little known, and that do not lead to a hopeful place.

Catch the Fair One is in select theaters and on VOD.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.