We’ve all met somebody who has just bought a new product or just started a new job and it has totally changed their life and it will totally change yours too. And did they mention all of their products are free trade, and this company actually has personal relationships with all of the farmers in India who share in the profits? These kinds of stories make us feel good about buying something we want at a price that’s maybe a little higher than we can afford. But it’s worth it to support a company dedicated to helping make the world a better place. Right? And then you get horror-comedies like Slaxx.
Slaxx uses a murderous pair of jeans to suggest otherwise.
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Director: Elsa Kephart
Release Date: March 18, 2021 (Shudder)
Slaxx takes place almost entirely inside Canadian Cotton Clothiers, a store that inspires in many of its employees and customers an almost cult-like adherence to corporate mantras like “make a better tomorrow today.” Libby (Romane Denis) is the newest recruit at CCC and feels awed and overwhelmed by her opportunity to help restock the store for the new season. (To me, they all look a lot like the clothes they are packing up from last season).
The owner of the company, a man that Libby sees as a personal hero, comes to the store to whip the troops into a shouting frenzy over their brand new product, the Super Shapers. This pair of jeans uses your body heat to reform the fabric to fit everyone’s body “even if you’re 5 pounds underweight or 5 pounds overweight.” Of course, Slaxx literalizes the killer jeans idea by having the jeans be a possesed pair of pants that goes on a gory rampage. As the store is on lockdown until the next morning when the new clothes debut, there is plenty of opportunity for skillful tension building and creative kills.
Kills carried out by a pair of jeans.
This kind of absurd juxtaposition often works better in a storyboarding session than it does on screen. Even at a thankfully restrained 77 minutes the editing feels like it’s stretching the material thin. This under-serves what’s actually going on here, because most of what’s on-screen, despite being ridiculous, actually works.
The store is well designed, with brightly colored clothes hung in monochromatic sections (“ecosystems” in CCC speak) giving the showroom a fluorescent artificial sheen which highlights the dark shadows of the cavernous stockroom. The employee break room is a depressing afterthought, the manager’s office a fitting lair for a career-obsessed opportunist who is not going to let a dead body or two get in the way of his promotion to regional management. The actors are game and engaged but fittingly disposable.
The real star of the show, as it should be, is the pants. The Super Shapers are given life mostly through puppetry, with the green-suited puppeteers digitally erased. For the most part, it really works. The image of a pair of trousers lapping up a pool of blood like a lioness from a freshly culled gazelle is the kind of bonkers creativity we go to the movies for.
Is it laugh-out-loud funny? Sometimes. Is it especially scary? No. But it’s slickly made, and stylish and the limited budget is disguised admirably. Horror movies often throw a couple of half-baked ideas on the screen, some social criticism to make the whole endeavor seem a little arty and legitimate while not ever committing. Diet Twilight Zone. But director Elze Kephart and her writing partner Patricia Gomez stick to their themes throughout. While a pair of empty pants dancing to Bollywood songs may not be many fans’ ideas of good horror, or even good taste, the politics of fast fashion are fully considered here, if not always perfectly realized.
Few of us ever do the math to figure out that pants that cost $7 to manufacture overseas but are sold to us for $75 is an equation that only works out for the company’s stockholders. Those of us that do, well, we mostly just go ahead and buy the pants. What else can we do? I have a friend who likes to say, as her own sort of corporate mantra, “There’s no ethical consumption in late-stage capitalism.” It’s a two-pronged statement. Does it mean that there’s no way to buy anything without hurting someone, so just buy whatever you want? Or is the message that the system is broken to the point that we are all culpable until we fix it? The makers of Slaxx have turned that second prong into a pike and impaled us all. There are imperfections along the way but, the ending fits so well, I just had to buy it.