Seemingly innocuous inanimate objects turning into instruments of blood-soaked revenge has long been a staple of a certain type of horror. Not only in the ever-popular film genre, but also as an idea that taps into our own deep-rooted fears.
What if a mass-produced child’s toy started wielding a hammer? What if the pages of a scary children’s story came to horrifying life?
One size fits all? Fast-fashion with a life of its own
Slaxx (2020) is set in the fickle world of retail, where fashions change as frequently as the whims of a social media influencer.
As the film opens, we meet bright-eyed new employee Libby McClean (Romaine Denis) on her first day at a trendy clothes shop preparing to launch a new revolution in modern clothing: jeans that adapt to your body size. The ultimate in ‘one-size-fits-all’.
The staff spout corporate jargon and empty slogans (“Making a better tomorrow today!”), but it’s clear that something wicked lies behind the shiny teeth and phony smiles.
Unbeknownst to the personnel, a pair of murderous jeans prepares to wreak bloody revenge on the perceived perpetrators of the unscrupulous practices of the fashion industry.
Elza Kephart’s gore-fest delivers a social message
It feels like it would take a brave filmmaker to try and make the idea of killer jeans work, and co-writer and director Elza Kephart gives herself the tricky task of balancing an absurd concept, a heavy-handed moral message and just enough requisite blood spurting and grisly dismembering to keep the gore fans happy.
Kephart has a keen eye for a creative shot that adds visual interest to an otherwise formulaic scenario. There are grainy CCTV surveillance shots of employees walking to stockrooms along dark corridors (invariably a sign that something sinister is about to occur). I laughed at a split screen gag that felt like it was straight out of a Zucker brothers comedy.
However, the film’s brisk 77 minute running time doesn’t allow for much in the way of character development. We have the likeable, idealistic central character (Denis) and her sardonic, quirky ally (Sehar Bhojani) surrounded by one-dimensional, unlikeable archetypes ripe for being picked off in turn. There is the smug, ambitious retail manager (Brett Donahue), and characters who, bluntly, are as consequential to the plot as the expendable ‘red shirts’ on Star Trek (1966 – 1969) away missions.
As the film progresses, the killer jeans find evermore creative ways of dispatching their prey and for fans of slasher films, it succeeds at being chucklesome and joyfully repulsive in fairly equal measure.
Is Slaxx (2020) funny or scary?
That said, it is hard to tell whether the film knows how ridiculous its premise is, given that the cast, perhaps commendably, plays the whole thing almost totally straight.
When the first victim tried the jeans on for size, I was reminded of the ‘Polymorph’ episode of British sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf (1988 – ) when a shape shifting alien entity transforms into a pair of boxer shorts and starts shrinking to hilarious effect.
An issue is that the film doesn’t commit to being funny or scary, and frequently ends up being neither. The small bursts of humour are of the blackest quality and some of these moments do raise a smile, but sit uneasily next to a very admirable, but awkwardly executed (no pun intended) social message.
A moral misjudgement?
Slaxx (2020) wants to be a cautionary tale about the scourge of commercialism, condemning unethical business methods that morally disregard their workforce in developing countries. But there is something problematic and distasteful about the way it presents its social commentary.
Body horror and gore are one thing (and clearly played for laughs), but juxtaposing scenes of limbs being gleefully sliced and diced with shots showing the plight of a solitary Indian girl, working for nothing to produce clothing, and then staring into the camera with murderous intent seems like a misjudgment and does the people it is trying to stand up for a disservice.
Ultimately, Romaine Denis is an emerging acting talent and Kephart is an effective director and it will be of interest to follow what they both do next. But frustratingly, there is an exploitative bleakness to Slaxx (2020) that doesn’t sit well with me.
IMDb score: 5.2 | Film Forums: 5.0
Second Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Images: Shudder and as credited
Teacher. Musician. Writer. Fascinated by film. Co-creator of Janus Film Review.