2016, NR, 100 min. Directed by Clay Liford. Starring Michael Johnston, Hannah Marks, Michael Ian Black, Jessie Ennis, Tishuan Scott, Peter Vack, Violett Beane, John Ennis.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 9, 2016
If you feel in need of a respite from the seemingly anti-everything zeitgeist that’s descended like a hateful pall over half of the country of late, the Austin-shot Slash is an endearing, sweet, and altogether badass ode to being young, weird, and subversively creative. For anyone of any age who has ever suffered the slings and arrows of being a high school outsider, director Clay Liford’s film is a revelation. It eschews the generic teenage misfit storyline in favor of something far more contemporary and all-embracing. Bluntly put, Slash is a spunky masterpiece. It may be the finest and funniest teen angst movie since Sixteen Candles. High praise indeed, but Slash merits it and then some.
Fifteen-year-old Neil (Johnston) is an introverted social outcast who spends his days holed up in his bedroom writing erotic fan fiction. For those who’ve never heard of this wildly popular and long-running subgenre – as noted in the movie, the Brontë sisters sidelined in their own kinky version – “slash fanfic” generally involves pansexual, LGBTQ relationships drawn from existing pop culture icons, often sci-fi. Think torrid bedroom grapplings between Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Batman and Robin, or Buffy and Willow. Forget the alt-right, slash is all about the alt-inclusive. Neil’s writings are all about the musclebound hero Vanguard and his steamy romance with archenemy Deron Zaxa.
When Neil’s notebook falls into the wrong high schooler’s hands, he’s mortified, but the event also attracts the attention of Julia (Marks), an effortlessly cool slash author who takes him under her elfin wing and schools him on both his stiff – no pun intended – storytelling style and also convinces him to upload his Vanguard stories to an internet slash site, where he quickly becomes a genre celebrity. Offered a chance to read his work before a live audience at a Houston comic con, Neil and Julia cosplay themselves up and set off to hang out with their social misfit brethren.
There’s romantic subplots galore but no spoilers here. Half the fun of Slash is watching the socially awkward Neil come to terms with his burgeoning sexuality while simultaneously discovering a whole new world of freaks and geeks opening up to him.
Slash paints a sometimes brutally honest picture of what it’s like to feel that you’re the only one of your kind, but the film tackles various heady topics with a light, winning touch. Johnston and Marks have an undeniable chemistry that’s part adorable and part utterly realistic. Revenge of the Nerds this is not. The Chan board’s Rule 34 – “If it exists, there’s porn of it” – is one of the movie’s taglines, but the totally charming Slash is only hardcore in its depiction of teenage angst and sexual discomfiture. All are welcome here, regardless of who you are or who you may become.
[Full disclosure: Chronicle Founder/Editor Louis Black is an executive producer of the film.]