“These are fake people” sisters Iman and Ilhan tell each other, scrolling through Instagram posts of their friends “glamping.” As they do this, they sit in the middle of the woods on a disastrous camping trip of their own, unprepared and ill-equipped. The third member of their party, younger sister Idil, actually has the knowledge and equipment needed, but her older sisters are too busy arguing and complaining to pay any attention.
Not For Us? opens with Iman and Ilhan’s hooyo (mother, in Somali) warning her daughters about the dhegdheer, a cannibalistic monster from Somali folklore that preys on isolated campers. When the daughters rebuke her concerns as mere superstition, she lists other potential threats in the woods, such as bears and serial killers. These risks, plus the sisters’ inexperience, makes it clear to the viewer that this trip is a bad idea. When Mandy — a friend who was supposed to join their trip — backs out at the last minute and is replaced by Idil, it begins to feel as though neither older sister even wants to go. Instead, they do so merely to prove themselves able.
The film, just over ten minutes, ambitiously explores the out-of-placeness its title suggests through two genres: comedy and horror. Most humour comes from the sisters’ poor planning and disappointment with the realities of their camping experience. The lead actors’ performances help here too, instilling their characters with distinctive personalities and dynamics. There are also some fun cinematic flourishes that add to the comedy: an impressive animated sequence explaining the dhegdheer myth is unceremoniously interrupted by Iman protesting, “That won’t happen, it’s just camping!” and a quick cut back to the girls with their mom. Moments later, the older sisters’ protesting Idil joining them is also interrupted by a cut to the three of them arriving at their campsite.
The horror elements are formally impressive and Akilla clearly has a strong sense for directing it, but the film does not have the time, space, or interest to develop it. Adding tension to an already chaotic situation is someone — or something — who appears to be stalking the girls’ campsite. Where the comedic elements build off to a satisfying punchline, the horror peters out for a fairly underdeveloped joke.
Not For Us?, from its title and premise, could solely focus on the overwhelming whiteness that permeates activities like camping and the ways the three sisters experience or confront it. The decision to explore these ideas without becoming an “issues” film is a good one. As mentioned, the glamping photos they look through exclusively feature white people. Their friend Mandy — who backs out after texting them that “camping is LITERALLY iconic” and “ur gonna slayyy” — is too.
It’s notable that co-writers Iman & Ilhan Abdullahi (who are the namesakes for their characters) are credited before Akilla. This film — its ideas, its cultural influences, and its mixing of genres — clearly stems from their unique perspectives. Canadian cinema tends to be discussed in terms of important auteurs like David Cronenberg, Denys Arcand, and Alanis Obomsawin, but a strong sense of multiculturalism has been a major undercurrent too. The title Not For Us? is perhaps a bit ironic then, given the film proves the Abdullahi sisters to be talented and insightful new filmmakers who signal exciting potential for Canadian cinema.