4 out of 5 stars

There could’ve been real irony in shattering a naïve girl’s belief that a high-street fashion company could have both ethically-sourced fair trade clothes and low, low prices. Not all horrors can have their cake and eat it when attempting gore-soaked entertainment and cultural soapboxing, but Slaxx delivers blood, laughs, and smarts…. with no slack.

The premise is both simple and absurd: killer jeans. The Canadian Cotton Company (a typical bougie River Island-style fashion brand) is premiering a fantastic new form-fitting jean at their flagship outlet. The store’s staff, including doe-eyed newbie Libby (Romane Denis), is pulling an all-nighter to prep for the big release, but keep falling behind schedule as workers start disappearing. Libby’s assimilation into the corporate hellscape is interrupted as her highly-strung co-workers are brutally murdered by a vengeful spirit consumed by the culture they work for.

Slaxx doesn’t mess about with attacking retail culture, and rightfully so. Libby’s guided by the cynical Shruti (Sehar Bhojani) to their “robot king” manager Craig (Brett Donahue), who soon indoctrinates her into the CCC “ecosystem”. Through blind rage, the sentient pants are somehow less villainous than the soulless kiss-asses who worship a religion of corporations. CCC’s founder (Stephen Bogaert) himself appears to deliver an impassioned speech of false promises to sell their branded utopia, complete with rousing chants of “BE TO BE, BELONG, BELIEVE, BECOME”. It’s no wonder the rich inspire such fervent underlings to join their cults. Companies like CCC know people are idealistic, so by repeating words like ‘humanitarian’ enough, the poor suckers are easily convinced their corporate overlords have their best interests at heart.

When Libby shakes off being told the clothes she bought only last month are “three seasons old” and happily spends $175 for her mandatory uniform (no employee discount!), of course she’s impressionable enough to believe her colleague committed suicide (via tearing herself apart!?) and hiding the corpse makes her a team-player. She takes to subservience with an all too uncomfortable smile.

Co-writers Elza Kephart and Patricia Gomez intentionally make sure Libby’s suckered into the rise-and-grind mentality, despite being the protagonist. Chiming in offhandedly to tell Shruti her favourite Bollywood song and blanking at the name Green Day demonstrates her hilariously limited worldview. But compared to her caustic supporting cast, our lead is far too bland until it’s only her left. For most of Slaxx, I was looking past her at the more entertaining cast beyond. As our surrogate, we see through her the dissolving facade of the corporate industry, but Shruti’s a more empathetic character; not only connecting with the Indian backstory but using her native language to communicate with the threat (yes, still pants). Slaxx could’ve been more compelling by focusing on her story.

I usually despise intentionally unlikeable characters. Watch classic slashers and most of the rowdy teens were not assholes, but Kephart and Gomez’s razor-tongued dialogue pointedly fit this environment. These employees need to be jaded to survive, as that’s what retail does to you, and it becomes more enjoyable when they all hate each other rather than grinding down the new kid.

Everyone gets at least one delightful quip; resident bitch Jenna (Hanneke Talbot) going to “plug [her] hole”, with Craig’s automated response “I-register-your-feminine-issues-and-respect-them”. Or Shruti trying to break rule 175 of listening to music which she claims is for Diwali and “listening to cultural music is part of my heritage, I thought CCC promoted diversity and inclusion”, to which Craig snipes back “I don’t want to step out of my cultural zone, but pretty sure Diwali is in November”. Even Libby gets an apt moment recognising the pants may be Indian and asks Shruti “you speak Indian, right?” Of course, she reminds her “there are over 130 languages in India.”

The representation examined in Slaxx is surprisingly genuine; I assumed at least the director Kephart was of Indian descent, but both her and Gomez seem to be white Canadians. Slaxx is more focused than Shudder’s other recent original, Stay Out of the F**king Attic (2020), which leaned so far into tasteless Nazi-fetishism that it glossed over the representation it was aiming for. Perhaps having a clueless white protagonist is meant to reflect the filmmaker’s themselves; presenting a racial issue story through their personal perspective rather than hijacking someone else’s authentic voice.

Slaxx is written and directed with precise intent, all captured with fantastic cinematography from Steve Asselin. The deliberately sparse set-dressing perfectly mimics high-fashion outlets and the characters’ vacuous nature. Even the opening titles are gorgeous. The gore is also not only plentiful but shockingly brutal, and every kill is unique, which is incredible given the killer is a pair of jeans! Waists are crushed until bursting, necks snapped, and a particularly wince-inducing sequence has the worst case of getting caught in a zipper since There’s Something About Mary (1998). Well, maybe it’s not ‘frank and beans’ bad, but it is ferocious.

What makes Slaxx so damn entertaining is wonderful gore, snappy comedy, and an emotionally-provoking message all wrapped into a size zero outfit. One part the sweatshop critique in Child’s Play (2019), one part Burke’s corporate ass-kissing from Aliens (1986), and… well, just a wildly original concept like no other.

CANADA | 2020 | 77 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Elza Kephart.
writers: Patricia Gomez & Elza Kephart.
starring: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani, Kenny Wong, Tianna Nori, Jessica B. Hill, Erica Anderson & Hanneke Talbot.