Canadian Cotton Clothiers are the epitome of smug commercialism in this quirky horror comedy, and we join them on the verge of unveiling their brand new line. The “Super Shapers” are the first “gender-inclusive” jeans, designed to adapt to the shape of their wearer. Fresh-faced new employee Libby (Romane Denis) is on hand to assist with the grand unveiling, but things go awry when a pair of the jeans come to life and begin attacking staff and customers alike. It seems that CCC isn’t the ethical company it pretends to be. Now their chickens have come home to roost, in the form of an avenging denim angel.
So, can you really turn a pair of jeans into a horror villain? In director Elza Kephart‘s hands, the answer is, surprisingly, yes. Using a variety of practical techniques, the murderous trousers are imbued with malevolent life. Watching expert puppetry turn the back pockets into eyes and the waistband into a mouth that sucks pools of blood from the floor is a real joy. Seeing them slither about like a denim octopus is surprisingly creepy at times, too. It’s only when the jeans start walking around that things get a touch too goofy, including in a dance sequence that was probably funnier on paper than it was onscreen.
For a film with such an endearingly daft premise, Slaxx features some surprisingly prescient social commentary. The presentation of the CCC store as a gleaming temple of vacuous capitalism is spot on. The laughably bland yet ludicrously expensive items of designer clothing are treated like holy relics by the cult-like staff members. The culture of toxic positivity, the insistence that all staff members are a “family” (so why would you not want to work late or ever need a union?), and the smarmy, guru-like CEO character are all expertly handled. The store feels like a nightmare hybrid of Apple, Lululemon and a particularly corrosive MLM. And, of course, all of this is mixed with a healthy dose of cultural appropriation, as the company adopts sayings and symbols from the countries that it exploits for cheap labour.
All of this is underpinned by what is probably the film’s strongest performance. Brett Donahue is absolutely note-perfect as the smarmy store manager, Craig. When people talk about toxic positivity in the workplace, Craig is who they mean. He speaks entirely in corporate jargon, empty slogans and meaninglessly chipper soundbites. He smiles with manic enthusiasm about his company, but his barely concealed rage is always visible on his face. Cunning, ruthless and career-minded, Craig makes for a perfect secondary villain.
Given the cynicism of the film overall, it’s more of a contrast when our protagonist is such a wide-eyed innocent. She has very much swallowed the CCC Kool-aid, and considers it a real honour to stack shelves for minimum wage in a uniform that she has to pay for herself. While it’s interesting to watch a true believer have their convictions shaken, her naivety is so extreme at first that it becomes quite difficult to take her seriously. There’s brand loyalty and then there’s just complete blind faith in a corporate giant, and for much of the film she sticks to the latter, which can limit engagement with her as a character.
The film’s low budget is fairly obvious, with its use of almost entirely static shots and minimal locations. This would not normally be an issue with a film of this type, but it becomes a problem when so many of the deaths have to happen offscreen. One of the deaths is hilarious. With absurd gore-spurting practical effects, it’s everything you want from a movie like this. However, it promises a future blood bath that never really materialises. When the inevitable massacre arrives, it does so without an audience, which feels like a real let-down.
As a midnight movie with some compellingly unpleasant characters and a winning premise, Slaxx can be a really good time. Its budget limitations mean that it ends up falling a little short of the blood-spattered mayhem that early scenes hint at. However, the film’s inherent goofiness may leave audiences pleasantly surprised by its sharp satirical edge.