Slasher Solstice is the third go-round for Aaron Martin’s ludicrously inventive little anthology series, which kicked off not that long ago (in 2016) with The Executioner. By now, the format should be showing signs of staleness, particularly given how most slasher movies lose their grip about an hour in (and I say this as an unabashed, lifelong fan of the sub-genre). And yet, Martin’s deviously dark and gory series continues to go from strength to strength, its concept expanding with each new installment. This time around, he even finds time for some real-world commentary — naturally, certain denizens of Twitter are not pleased, making the decision to do so even sweeter.
The setting for Season 3 is a dilapidated yet curiously well-decorated apartment block in which a certain slutty, bisexual young man perished not one year ago, following a raucous, Dionysian party celebrating, yes, the summer solstice. A gripping and creepy prologue sees reveler Kit Jennings (the gorgeous and utterly fearless Robert Cormier) a bit worse for wear, stumbling home as, unbeknownst to him, a hooded figure stalks behind. As with the previous two seasons, the design of the masked killer is on point. This time around, he or she is completely in black with a nu-rave mask splattered in fluorescent wire detail making them stand out amidst the darkness. It’s a killer look (sorry) that evokes The Purge series, which is no bad company to keep.
Kit is first attacked outside the building. Once he makes it indoors, where the safety of his apartment beckons, it quickly becomes clear the residents of this particular block aren’t as friendly as one would hope. At least two people actively ignore Kit’s cries for help, and, since his spare key isn’t in its usual spot, the party animal soon succumbs to the killer’s sizeable blade. Kit actually dies in the hallway, in plain sight, but a year later everybody is still living in the building so his death can’t have caused too much of a stir. One person who does care, however, is the so-called Druid who returns to cause more murder and mayhem to mark the occasion.
Slasher Solstice, bizarrely, takes place over the course of this one, fateful day. It’s the kind of setup that works in a 90-minute movie but here, as with the ludicrously popular 24, leaves the viewer feeling like maybe these characters should be peeing a lot more often (in fact, one of the show’s most gruesome murders takes place in a bathroom stall, so someone is feeling the urge). Still, there’s no denying it’s a great hook, and frequent flashbacks — handily signposted so we don’t get lost — flesh out the story while also giving the characters more than one outfit to wear. They also offer more of an insight into what happened up to and surrounding Kit’s murder.
The shock-waves were seemingly felt throughout the building, causing more than one tenant to make their views known on social media. In particular, shameless attention-seeker Violet (Paula Brancati, one of several returning stars) has created a vlogging series dedicated to The Druid. Although she, clearly, has about 50 viewers total, the intrepid wannabe reporter is intent on learning everything she can about the killer and sharing the information, in the least sensitive manner possible, with the masses. As the bodies stack up, Violet flits around on the sidelines, shooting video and barking inappropriate questions at the investigating officers.
There’s a lot of fun to be had waiting for Violet to perish, as she deserves, at the gloved hands of The Druid. It seems Martin, and his talented writing staff, is making a point about our tendency to lash out online, thinking ourselves immune to criticism let alone actual, real life consequences. Violet isn’t completely unsympathetic, but when she’s warned about taking things too far, her eyes glint with the possibility of fame at all costs — even if it means dying. Likewise, Violet uses her husband to further her own ends in spite of his harboring a potentially devastating secret. Neither party is innocent, but there’s a clear line between the two and their intentions.
Elsewhere, Martin peppers his cast with a surprising variety of LGBTQ characters, including the aforementioned Kit (who, thankfully, isn’t the only B representation here — the “slutty bi” cliche should really be put out to pasture), soulful Angel (Salvatore Antonio), and Amber (another returning star, in the form of Joanne Vannicola), who’s tortured by the grisly public suicide of her ex-wife. Amber is tasked with looking after mixed race teen siblings Jen and Connor (Mercedes Morris and Gabriel Darku, both great) but it quickly becomes clear she’s barely capable of taking care of herself. There’s also Muslim teen Saadia (a luminous Baraka Rahmani), the cops on the murderer’s trail, and an asexual Asian gamer (Rosie Simon), whose hipster boyfriend (Jim Watson) runs the local coffee shop.
Thrown into this refreshingly diverse mix of cultures and ethnicities are a white supremacist (an unrecognizable Dean McDermott) and his out of control daughter (Genevieve DeGraves), who blames Saddia and her supposed connections to ISIS for a horrific beheading (the first murder following Kit’s, and a real doozy even by this show’s standards). It’s to Slasher Solstice‘s great credit that, although it seems obvious from the beginning who’s going to live and who deserves to be punished, the show wrong-foots us at every turn, gradually revealing hidden depths to certain characters while others are unveiled as monsters hiding in plain sight. Much of the fun of slashers is picking off characters we hate, and this provides that and then some.
The murders, which have been impressively grisly since the outset, kick up yet another notch in Season 3. There’s the aforementioned beheading — slow, methodical, messy — and toilet-based acid attack (better seen rather than explained here), as well as plenty of horrific stabbings and a dissection that would put Hannibal‘s most gruesome moments to shame. One particular character perishes in his own place of business, leading Horror Icon Bill Moseley, in a fun cameo as a local homeless man, to deadpan, “I poured a cup. I drank it. It was blood” without a shred of irony. And yet, Slasher Solstice is almost entirely devoid of the kind of annoyingly self referential knee-slappers we’ve come to tolerate in mainstream horror.
Martin mostly plays it straight here, keeping the tone even and the mood tense throughout. Director Adam MacDonald, who helmed all eight episodes, has a keen eye for horrifying detail. He knows where horror fans will be looking and surprises us consistently. It’s difficult to put an individual spin on a TV show like this, especially one that regenerates each season, but MacDonald’s sure touch is felt. He keeps a handle on the action, whether in a coffee shop, a local high school, or the Solstice parties that bookend both the beginning and the end of the season. Likewise, returning composer Shawn Pierce keeps the score rattling along nicely.
It all adds up to a hugely appealing, and deceptively binge-worthy season. I flew through all eight episodes in a single sitting, annoyed at even having to get up to click onto the next one each time. As with the previous two seasons, Slasher Solstice sucks you in and makes you care about these characters just as much as its slowly unraveling mystery. There will be those who figure out who it is early on (I’m not one of them, admittedly) but I doubt even knowing would spoil the enjoyment of the season as a whole. This is a remarkably cogent and well-judged slice of horror television, powered by terrific, fully committed performances across the board.
As for those complaining about the “SJW” elements, it’s worth noting that Martin doesn’t beat us over the head with the show’s topicality. Issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation are threaded into the narrative as talking points rather than signposted as focal points. The decision to do so, to give this silly, gory little program a real-world footing and a proper point of view, is a brave one and it’s to its great credit that, if anything, this adds to the slasher element rather than taking away from it. This, after all, should be the norm. And if more series took the chance, it soon will be. Where could Slasher possibly go for Season 4? Judging by Solstice, the only way is up.