SLAXX (Shudder, NR)

There’s a particular subset of horror films that features human beings threatened by normally benign and inanimate objects. Among other things, we’ve had killer cars (Christine), dolls (the Child’s Play franchise, Attack of the Puppet People, “Living Doll” from The Twilight Zone), action figures (Small Soldiers), elevators (De Lift and its English-language remake Down, a.k.a. The Shaft), a ventriloquist’s dummy (Dead of Night), a mantle clock (Amityville: It’s About Time), and even a lonely rubber tire (Rubber).  The very ridiculousness of this premise works particularly well for horror comedy, which is the tactic taken by Elza Kephart in Slaxx, which stars a pair of killer jeans.

Slaxx begins in the sun-kissed cotton fields of India, where women dressed in colorful saris pick cotton in an “experimental field” for Canadian Cotton Clothiers (hereafter CCC; I’m not sure if the resemblance to “KKK” is intended or not, since this is a Canadian film). Those experiments are not entirely benign, we learn, and things get more ominous, musically and cinematographically, as boxes of CCC jeans are shipped to their retail destination.

That would be a CCC store, where everything public-facing is both cheerful and creepy-the store is spacious and full of bright colors (Uniqlo seems to be the model), but the employees sport fake smiles and talk in slogans like “Become” and “Make a better tomorrow today.” Meanwhile, the manager acts like a creepy drill sergeant bent on stamping out any expressions of independent thought or action among his employees, and the women’s restroom includes a huge sign saying “Theft hurts us all,” which tells you what’s really on the company’s mind.

It’s the night before CCC launches a new product: a line of “Super Shaper” jeans that automatically adapt to the contours of your body.  “One shape for all!” is the slogan. But isn’t that what jeans do anyway, courtesy of the denim weave?  And if the hype is true, why are almost all the employees skinny skinny, so that they hardly present any pair of jeans with a challenge? It’s telling that the chief exception, Shruti (Sehar Bohani), has more sense than the rest of the lot put together.

More importantly, why would a company pay for ads describing people being underweight or overweight by five pounds, if they’re all about body positivity and inclusion? Specific body weight is relevant to people competing in some sports, such as boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, where it determines your competition class, but should not be a matter of concern to the general public. So many questions, because Slaxx is a film with a serious message, not only about the exploitation of workers in developing countries, but also about the disingenuous of corporations who claim to be saving the world through their consumer products, and the tyranny of a culture that deems some bodies (particularly those of women) acceptable and others not.

The main action takes place over about a day. Libby (Romane Denis) is new to her job at CCC, and very eager to please. She also sincerely believes in the company’s purported ethical business practices and environmental concerns. Manager Craig (Brett Donahue), in contrast, is a pure careerist—his epitaph might well read “I was only following orders”—whose chief goal is to graduate from store manager to regional manager. This makes him a ready target for satire, and when you add to that his over-gelled hair, you have ample cause to hate him from the outset.

The night before the big opening, the jeans claim their first victim, with ample blood flow, although no one is there to witness the event. From there on, the game becomes “what other cool kills will they come up with?” which is of course part of the fun of any good slasher film. Shock has a way of loosening you up for laughter, and both serve to break up your comfortable, everyday experience and get you to pay attention to what is actually happening.

Slaxx isn’t aiming for the Oscars, unless “best socially conscious midnight movie” has become a category and I somehow missed the memo. But it’s a lot of fun, and at 77 minutes does not overstay its welcome. Someday, when the pandemic is over and it’s safe to gather in groups indoors again, it would be a blast to see at a late-night screening at your favorite movie palace. Until then, you can stream it at home, courtesy of Shudder. | Sarah Boslaugh

Slaxx will be available for streaming from Shudder beginning March 18.

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