Did you know that pant zippers are the most common cause of adult penis injury? Thankfully, the fatality rate is pretty much nothing to worry about. Until now. In the vein of absurd inanimate antagonists ranging from Rubber’s killer tire to Killdozer!’s well…Killdozer, Shudder’s horror/comedy Slaxx is all about a pair of jeans out for blood. Director Elza Kephart (who co-wrote with Patricia Gomez) doesn’t hit below the belt with that particularly painful pinch, but her delightfully schlocky movie definitely ups the kill count contributable to denim—all stitched into a critique of the clothing industry, from the harvest to the high-end boutique.
Now, when you hear “killer pants movie,” you might not really care about things like “plot” or “message.” You probably just want to know if it rules to see some empty jeans run, scoot and leap around murdering people. Well, if you’re looking for a movie that doesn’t sit around long enough to wear a hole in the seat of its extremely silly premise, with lots of gore and a few great deaths, Slaxx will fit like a glove. But maybe even better than its murderous trousers is its depiction of working retail: Libby (Romane Denis) is an excited little squirt recently hired to work at hyper-trendy, supposedly sustainable Canadian Cotton Clothiers’ flagship store, and everyone around her—from the store manager (Brett Donahue) to its employees—is varying degrees of terrible. Basically the exact kind of people you’d want to see torn to shreds by some dope dungarees.
Libby’s brought on to help roll out a fancy new jean—the Super Shaper (emblazoned, of course, with an intimidating “SS”) which conforms to fit “everyone”—and prepare for an influencer’s visit to the store. Libby’s sort of a non-entity, except when deadpanning racist microaggressions towards Sehar Bhojani’s character, but is useful for centralizing the ire of her co-workers. Kephart and Gomez’s CCC is a retailer hellscape, a color-coded world of jargon, snooty fashionistas and highly structured workflow. Donahue, uptight and energetic in the most perfectly annoying way, dominates the film with his grasping, middle-management ambition that’s fully drunk the company kool-aid. He’s sad, evil and exudes the aura of the worst kind of person most of us have to deal with (a little man with a little power), all through a clenched smile and some leadership summit buzzwords. In a film that’s almost entirely about pants that come to life with a thirst for blood, his performance is a pleasant surprise.
While working retail continues to suck the souls from CCC’s staff, a pair of SS has awakened in the backroom with a chip on its hip. And during an event where the staff is on lockdown to maintain the exclusive secrecy surrounding the new brand, no less! Naked & Famous, a jean brand well-known among denimheads for their inventive and often humorous pants (scratch-n-sniff, minty fresh jeans, for example), and puppeteers bring the central monster to endearingly low-fi life. At first, what that entails is relatively slim(-fit): The fashion slasher kills the way you might imagine pants killing when worn. However, it only increases in mobility and morbidity as the film goes on. When the jeans fully transform from clothing to monster (waistband morphed to hungry maw, back pockets arched to eyes) and the blood starts to spray, Slaxx’s schlock cannot be beaten.
The juicy effects are far more comic than gruesome, and the intensity with which they’re deployed around a pair of intimidating pants only make the gross-out laughs land harder. The skilled manipulation of the jeans, especially during the Bollywood dance sequence to “Hamara India” (in case you thought this movie needed to get any more over-the-top), gives the slasher some added visual humor and a little bit of depth beyond its legline. Sorry, logline.
Like the humor, this slasher also form-fits to its genre in its wielding of a moral lesson—though the film’s admirable attempt at commentary on “sustainable” manufacturing and labor abuses manifests with a nuance befitting the genre. The messaging can feel a little tone-deaf even for a movie about killer pants. Slaxx’s contained vision of a capitalist nightmare is moving enough in its sharp and only slightly satirical depiction of the storefront itself; bloody Black Friday sales and vague, exploited anger incarnated into a vengeful pair of denim…not so much. Its heart is in the right place, but without much room for elaboration or characterization (especially for Bhojani) in such a breezy and zippy string of kills, its attempts at seriousness feel sillier than the actual silliness on display.
That’s no reason to skip Slaxx, however, as even barring some sluggish moments and a bit of a rushed finale—the thing is only 77 minutes long after all—it’s a piece of fast fashion that yearns to be (and sometimes succeeds at being) more. If the idea of killer jeans makes you crack a grin, and even if you’ve been disappointed by horror movies with similarly silly central conceits, it’s worth your time to try on Slaxx. You might be surprised how enjoyable this bootcut bloodbath feels.
Directors: Elza Kephart
Writers: Elza Kephart, Patricia Gomez
Stars: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani, Stephen Bogaert
Release Date: March 18, 2021 (Shudder)
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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