Elza Kephart’s loveably demented sartorial slasher Slaxx isn’t the first film to examine the dangers of searching for that ‘killer outfit’. Peter Strickland‘s surreal In Fabric memorably had a red dress seeking chic victims a few years back. Kephart’s take on what could flippantly be called ‘mort couture‘ is more akin to the Dadaist mischief of Quentin Dupieux‘s telepathic tyre flick Rubber than In Fabric‘s sly mashup of Italian atmosphere and British kitchen sink drama, and stretches its simple premise like an elasticated waistband. It’s a gonzo good time, even if some of its themes clash with its execution like tweed against velour.
When a possessed pair of jeans begins picking off the staff at a clothing store, it’s up to idealistic new girl Libby (Romane Denis) to stop its the murderous rampage. She soon discovers that she isn’t just up against the denim menace, but that her boss Craig (Brett Donahue) will go to any lengths to cover up the killings in case it costs him a shot at promotion.
Slaxx is an exploitation flick in two senses and they don’t gel together particularly well. The serious point it makes about our willingness to overlook terrible manufacturing practices to feed our consumerist impulses clashes against the sheer daftness of the narrative. There are, in fact, a few moments where the silly, giddy tone slips into something far darker, and you can almost hear the grinding of gears at this sudden switch. As the narrative switches to India to explain the curse, the very real disregard for cheap labour from developing nations is too brutal a juxtaposition of a pair of jeans slurping up the gore from its latest kill. Still, it does offer the opportunity for a bizarre interlude in which the jeans dance along to a Bollywood number from staff member Shruti’s (Sehar Bhojani) playlist, one of the more endearingly batshit moments of a film constructed of them.
Anchoring this insanity is a counterintuitively perfect performance of wide-eyed earnestness from Denis. She’s starts out as the ingenue idealising the seemingly progressive values of the ‘CCC’ (Canadian Clothing Store), until the scales are torn brutally from her eyes, though she crucially retains the values that have been slowly stripped from her catty, apathetic colleagues. Donahue is the villain with a human face; a queasily plausible sociopath whose ambition to be area manager (and it’s the mundanity that is terrifying here) will happily encompass such extremes as hiding bodies and assaulting less pliable colleagues.
Taking pot-shots at fashion snobbery, social media influencers, and workplace bullying among other things, Slaxx still works best as an out-and-out comedy slasher. Kephart makes the most of her limited location and claustrophobic conceit – the store is locked down to prepare for the launch of the very clothing range that go on the rampage – and it thunders by in a riotous 77 minutes. Those jeans are so wonderfully expressive too; not since the penguin in The Wrong Trousers has inanimate material oozed such malevolence. Silly, bloody, and lots of fun, Slaxx really makes the most of its gleefully daft premise. They’ve really missed a trick not having Die Toten Hosen on the soundtrack though.
Available to stream on Shudder from Wed 17 Mar 2021