Slash full movie review - A Love Story for Outsiders
Freshman Neil (Michael Johnston)'s Vanguard stories are all he cares about... until he meets the older Julia (Hannah Marks), who pushes him to put his own fan fiction online. When the website's moderator (Michael Ian Black) takes a special interest in Neil's work, it opens up a whole new universe.
Going in to this film without knowing much might result in a bit of confusion. All I knew was that the film was called "Slash" and it was classified as a comedy. So, my assumption was that it must be a horror-comedy riffing on slasher films. Well, that assumption was wildly incorrect. This is not a horror-comedy, it has nothing to do with slashers. Even the "comedy" aspect might be inaccurate, as it is really more of a coming-of-age drama for the social outcasts.
What the title actually refers to is "slash fiction", a world completely foreign to me. I've been on the Internet long enough to know about fan fiction (and maybe, possibly, I dabbled in it back in the 90s). And obviously it would be inevitable that fictional characters end up in romantic or sexual situations. But slash fiction is more specific, focusing on the homosexual relationships of fictional characters, such as Kirk/Spock (read: Kirk-slash-Spock). For those who are curious, look up "slash fiction" on Wikipedia and you'll quickly realize this is not only a thing, but a whole culture with conventions, a myriad of subgroups and more. Mind blown? Oh yeah.
Writer-director Clay Liford previously made the short film "Slash" (2012) about a 13-year old writing erotic Harry Potter fan fiction. When adapting to a full-length feature, the character has been adjusted to 15 (probably a safe move) and the fiction is now on the invented character of Vanguard. Certainly, this change was done for legal reasons, but there are still offhand references in the film of well-known characters involved in these situations: we have "ninja turtle bondage", Gandalf hooking up with Dumbledore, and even the dreaded Brady Bunch incest fantasy. What a world!
Although the film takes place in this world (which may be attractive or repulsive to different people), the heart of the story is really in the interaction between the two lead characters. Neil is at a rough stage in his life, not knowing if he is gay or straight, and finding himself rejected by everyone. Michael Johnston (TEEN WOLF) plays Neil about as insecure and awkward as anyone ever on the big screen, which is exactly right. Julia (Hannah Marks, DIRK GENTLY) is his extroverted counterpart and really steals the show, but her outgoing nature is really just a cover-up for her own insecurities. She is caught between her true self (an elf-loving geek) and being the disrespected puppet of her on-again, off-again boyfriend (Peter Vack, MOZART IN THE JUNGLE), much to Neil's dismay and consternation.
Although the "fantastic" elements of the film are not the focus and only show up when Neil is writing, a special note of appreciation has to go to the effects, makeup and costume departments. The Vanguard segments look amazing, and if a decent script was written, these characters could actually be developed into a viable franchise. The costume for the villain in particular had such a distinct, captivating look? like a futuristic Skeletor, perhaps?
Lastly, worth calling out are Lauren Sanders and Curtis Heath for their composing, which had hints of "Turbo Kid" or the music of Disasterpiece (IT FOLLOWS). Although there was a fair amount of music that wasn't original to the film, the score that came from these two was really something, and again would be welcome alongside a full-length Vanguard story.
In short, "Slash" is a great film about coming of age in a world that remains unwelcoming to outsiders. Whether gay or straight (or anything in between or beyond), if you've ever felt like you never quite fit in or weren't appreciated, you will identify with Neil in some way. His journey and yours are likely radically different, but the message remains the same: adolescent is all about embracing who you are, overcoming the odds, and never letting the haters see you cry. "Slash" premieres at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 16 in front of an audience who will know this was a story written just for them.