Slaxx (2020)

Director: Elza Kephart

Running Time: 77 Minutes

Starring: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani, Tianna Nori, Jessica B. Hill, Erica Anderson, Hanneke Talbot

My review of Slaxx was first published at Bloody Good Screen.

Celebrated film critic Roger Ebert once described movies as “the most powerful empathy machine”, allowing you to walk in somebody else’s shoes, no matter how different they may be to you. Over this 77-minute runtime, viewers are put into one of the most hellish scenarios known to humankind; working in retail.

The story unfolds within a single store, Canadian Cotton Clothiers. With a sleek interior design, it resembles an Apple Store, complete with their own mythologised Steve Jobs figure. Everybody puts on a happy-go-lucky façade for the customers, but it masks how miserable they are. The employees may not be menaced by a dream-stalking murderer, or a machete-wielding superhuman, but the toll is clearly being taken on them. Let’s see Freddy or Jason take a berating from their boss, or temper their tone with irritating customers.

Working a late shift, the employees are preparing for ‘Monday Madness’, which will unveil their eagerly awaited line of designer jeans. Known as Super Shapers, this range of thermally activated denim adapts to any body size. Unfortunately, one pair has been accidentally soaked in blood, and goes on a vicious rampage.

Our entry point into the store is Libby, the newest employee eager to start her job. Capturing the character’s idealistic nature, Romane Denis is a likeable presence in the lead role. When she talks about her new employers making the world a better place, you believe this is how Libby actually feels. When the story turns grisly, her optimism is challenged, and one wishes she was a more proactive force, rather than reacting to whatever she discovers. Not helping the matters is Greg, her store manager. He’s single-minded in his aspirations, wanting to ascend to the regional manager position, whatever it takes. This makes for an utterly contemptable character, with the intensity captured well in Brett Donahue’s performance.

Above all, you must be wondering how well the killer jeans aspect is handled. It begins with some employees finding the design alluring, to the point they’re compelled to try out this hot new item. Once they have the Super Shapers on, the moment of realisation comes too late. It never gets old seeing this piece of clothing commit cold-blooded murder, mixing up the kills, to ensure the idea doesn’t get stale. There’s no question about it, director Elza Kephart is aware of the ridiculous scenario. Why else would she have a scene of the Jeans menacingly roaring?

Viewers get exactly what’s expected from the fun premise, played out in gruesome ways, but there’s a surprising element of social relevance within. The screenplay, which Kephart has co-written with Patricia Gomez, carries an emotional backstory relating to the ruthless nature of big corporations. The jeans may be out for blood, but Canadian Cotton Clothiers got their hands soaked in it first. This is a tale about stolen lives, and the blind eye turned to them, all for the sake of designer items.

We regularly see the slogan of this big company, “Make A Better Tomorrow Today”, and it highlights the hypocrisy in these businesses making such large statements, only to fail on following through with it. It’s a reflection of how corporations brandish Pride flags on their logos, or their social media channels say “Black Lives Matter”, and then consider their empty statement to be good enough. It’s a powerful indictment, whose existence is a surprise within this ridiculous premise. Thank goodness for it being nestled within, ensuring there’s more to this film than just the wacky-sounding logline.