Oftentimes, with horror movies, a goofy premise works better on paper than it does in practice. You only have to look to the recent Aquaslash – a film about a killer waterslide – for evidence that a great trailer, poster, and even idea do not a great movie make. What a wonderful surprise, then, to discover Slaxx, the premise of which surrounds a killer pair of pants, is just as much fun as that attention-grabbing, one-line elevator pitch suggests. It might actually be more fun, because unlike movies such as Aquaslash, the characters are just as compelling as the antagonist.
Our heroine is Libby (Romane Denis, such a newcomer she doesn’t even have a photograph on IMDb yet), a bright-eyed and enthusiastic new employee at CCC, AKA Canadian Cotton Clothiers, which is the kind of do-gooder brand that brags so much about its own sustainability you just know the people behind it are secretly evil. Indeed, boss Craig (a riotous Brett Donahue) is so highly-strung he might pop while owner Harold (Stephen Bogaert, who played Bev’s creepy father in the IT redux) clearly has bodies in his basement.
Although Libby has always dreamed of working for CCC, which looks a bit like Benetton and Uniqlo had a messed-up baby and is color coded to the extreme, her first day doesn’t exactly go to plan because there’s, well, an evil pair of jeans on the loose. The new “super shapers,” the idea for which is based on real women’s pants that are supposed to make any body type look great but here are guaranteed to help only those who are five pounds underweight or five pounds overweight – which is more honest, to be fair – boast a double-S symbol that looks curiously like Nazi insignia.
They’re super cool though, so cool in fact that light-fingered employee Jemma (Hanneke Talbot) can’t resist grabbing a pair and pulling them on. They do fit like a dream and it’s hard to find a great pair of jeans so Jemma really can’t be faulted for taking the opportunity – find me a woman who’ll disagree. After a while, though, she begins experiencing what feel like menstrual cramps but, when Jemma goes to the bathroom, she finds the jeans inexplicably molded to her legs, and not in a flattering way. Before too long, blood is spurting everywhere, and poor Jemma is a goner.
Cleverly, when these jeans kill, they also suck up all the blood so there’s no mess or evidence left over for anybody to find. Indeed, when poor Libby stumbles upon Jemma’s corpse and shows it to her boss, Craig argues it was clearly suicide and there’s no reason to close the store. As he sees it, “There’s no killer, unless you think Jemma is a killer…of herself.” It’s a hilarious line that calls to mind Jaws’s infamous “we can’t close the beaches, it’s summertime” argument or even Pool Shark’s “just don’t go in the water” / “but it’s so HOT” exchange.
A level of self-awareness is required to sell these kinds of inherently silly premises and Slaxx is fully aware of just how ridiculous it is, without ever flirting with patting itself on the back. The reason the store must stay open, you see, is because obnoxious YouTuber Peyton Jules (Erica Anderson) is coming in for a private fitting. A perfectly accurate representation of the kind of annoying internet celebrity who’s on all the time, Peyton is someone whose horrible death is guaranteed to be captured on camera. That it’s played for laughs only sweetens the deal.
Because Peyton is visiting, CCC is also fully locked down for the night, meaning there’s no phone or internet signal in or out until 8 a.m., which lends the wacky proceedings an air of urgency. Poor Libby keeps discovering bodies, but naturally nobody will listen to her until it’s too late. The jeans themselves are shot ominously, Slaxx opening with the camera from their perspective, and the footage of them moving around is genuinely great, very robotic and rickety. Everything is done practically – stick around through the credits to see just how practical in fact – which is impressive.
Much consideration has gone into the pants as a character, and an antagonist. They attack like a wild animal and lap up blood like a dog. Later, several pairs move in formation like an army, the shot juxtaposed against the many jeaned legs anxiously waiting outside to enter the store. The back pockets become eyes from certain angles while the waist is, obviously, a mouth. The kills, however, are sold entirely by the actors’ performances, which are impressive across the board from a mostly unknown, and totally game, Canadian cast.
Directed by Elza Kephart, and scripted by her and Patricia Gomez, Slaxx also has an inescapable female energy to it. Aside from the plucky protagonist and dope jeans, there are precisely zero leering shots of women getting changed despite the fact, at least the first couple times, someone must put on the pants to be killed by them. Elsewhere, Sehar Bhojani’s likeable Shruti establishes a tangible, real-life connection to the Indian women toiling in the fields picking cotton for CCC. Her ability to write and speak Hindi comes in handy later, too.
Likewise, boss Craig is just as much of an antagonist as the pants themselves because, as is typical of these kinds of situations, he holds all the power and exploits it accordingly. The store’s tagline, “making a better tomorrow…today,” proves somewhat ironic since Libby and her colleagues are having the worst day ever but Craig manages to be completely unhelpful in virtually every situation. Although Slaxx’s ending reads as surprisingly dark for the goofy setup, you could argue that, with Craig in charge, everyone is doomed even without killer pants.
Suffice to say, this is one killer concept that’s meatier than it has any right to be. You’ll definitely want to try on these Slaxx.
Catch Slaxx exclusively on Shudder from March 18, 2021
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Elza Kephart
Writer(s): Elza Kephart, Patricia Gomez
Stars: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani, Stephen Bogaert
Release date: March 18, 2021
Studio/Production Company: EMA Films
Run Time: 77 minutes