The Bannocking is the latest in a wave of Indigenous horror stories onscreen

In the new CBC Gem web series, featuring an all-Indigenous cast and crew, tainted bannock leads to hallucinogenic terror.

The all-Indigenous web series is a tribute to co-creator Mitchell Saddleback’s favourite horror movies

A First Nations man (long braided hair, plaid jacket over a hoodie) in his early 30s leans against a brick wall, in profile.
Mitchell Saddleback as Billy in The Bannocking. (CBC)

The idea of The Bannocking was a long time coming for Mitchell Saddleback, the co-writer and co-star of the new web series.

When Damien Eagle Bear — co-writer and producer — first came to him with the idea of an all-Indigenous horror series back in 2018, it seemed like a natural partnership. Both men are First Nations — Saddleback is from the Samson Cree Nation, Eagle Bear is Kainai from the Blackfoot Confederacy — they both work in Vancouver's film and television industry, and they both grew up loving horror movies.

"He came to me with the basic idea and we just started rolling with it and created these characters and this whole backstory," he says. "Once we found out the relationships between all these characters, we kind of treated them like chess pieces, you know — they all have their own way to move."

The Bannocking takes place in the small First Nations community of Bent Creek. Saddleback says the elevator pitch is "[the community is] meeting to decide what to do with the old residential school, and during the community meeting, the bannock gets tainted." 

As an Indigenous horror fan, Saddleback grew up not seeing himself represented in the genre. Now, however, The Bannocking is part of a growing sub-genre of Indigenous-focused horror, joining movies like Blood Quantum and Prey and books like Moon of the Crusted Snow. Saddleback says that it makes sense that Indigenous writers are drawn to the genre.

"We are storytellers," he says. "We have stories that are scary and that do teach lessons."

He wants the series to be "a tribute" to the horror movies he grew up on.

"[Damien and I] have very similar tastes," he says. "We like a lot of zombie movies, a lot of George Romero. There's a lot of The Shining kind of transitions, Stanley Kubrick, and a lot of creature features: Critters and Gremlins and Tremors."

In addition to co-writing the series, Saddleback also stars in it as Billy — a local ne'er do well who uses something he finds in the basement of the abandoned residential school to increase the potency of his weed, accidentally unleashing a terror on the reserve. Saddleback says that he put a lot of himself into the character.

"We were coming up with the character's personal struggle, and it became a lot of my own personal struggle," he says. "He plans to move out of the rez. He wants to start his life and get his life together, even though his ideas aren't really all there. That's a lot of myself."

Sizzling bannock.
The Bannocking. (CBC)

"There was a scene that was all improv," he continues. Damien just rolled the camera and said, 'Pretend to talk to your mom.' I don't even remember what I said on the show, but it was something like, 'I promise I'm going to be a good citizen and to make rent every month.' And those are really personal things from my own life."

Saddleback and Eagle Bear have five whole seasons of The Bannocking planned out, and if they get the chance to make it, things will expand beyond the rez.

"What happens in the community centre, it definitely gets bigger and has bigger implications in the world," he says. "And it definitely affects where these characters end up."

Watch The Bannocking now on CBC Gem.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.