On Saturday night, Clay Liford’s kickstarted indie comedy gem Slash took Montreal by storm. Fantasia Fest opened Thursday for the 20th anniversary festival, going strong since 1996. Since it’s original conception as an Asian film festival, Fantasia has morphed into one of the most respected and most important international genre film festivals in the world, a festival without fear of sharing offbeat, weird, and taboo genre entries. Keeping in this tradition, Slash is a fantastic offbeat comedy about a high school boy who writes “slash fiction” and is treated as an outsider by nearly everyone.
Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on interpersonal attraction and sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. (Wikipedia)
In other words, slash fiction is that story you saw on the Internet about Harry Potter and Draco sneaking into the Room of Requirement to get naked and practice spells with their “wands”. Slash fiction mashes up the nerdy world of fan fiction and the erotic world of DIY sex lit, mashing them up to create an ultra nerdy artform that is weird and taboo to most of the world. However, that subset of outsiders who enjoy such taboo things often engross themselves in this world and eat up every word. This film is a story about a few of those people.
In Slash, the story focuses on 15 year old protagonist, Neil (Michael Johnston of MTV’s Teen Wolf), and his newfound 16 year old friend, Julia (Hannah Marks of Weeds, SLC Punk 2, and Southbound). The two bond when Neil’s slash fiction about the sexual exploits of Sci-Fi hero Vanguard gets taken by a fellow student and passed around the school. Julia sees fit to take young Neil under her wing, both to work on their writing and break him out of his shell a bit. Julia is a bit of a “bad girl” who cuts classes and messes around with a senior named Mike who uses her for sex, while mocking her about her stupid “elf shit”. Julia sets her sights on helping Neil get away from the suppression put on him by society, his family, and himself.
At its core, Slash is an awkward and unconventional love story about awkward and unconventional teens. The slash fiction itself is simply a vehicle for creating a distinction between the “normal” people and the outsiders. Slash fiction could be replaced with any number of hobbies and pastimes frowned upon in the public eye. However, the genius of the use of slash as the world in which our core duo is living is that it creates a second subcategory of being the outcast, in that Julia and Neil are seen as too young to participate in the 18+ age limit of slash sites and slash events. As slash is pornographic in nature, the age restriction is based on both legal and ethical ideals. This, of course, means that there’s a need to lie about their age in order to fit into the outsider community they wish to be a part of.
The love story, as noted above, doesn’t always make a ton of sense and doesn’t wrap up as neatly as one may hope; but, love is not exactly perfect in the real world either. Who we love and how we show that love are things that are often awkward, confusing, and even sometimes nonsensical. Throw into the pot the fact that the main characters are outcasts in their world and in the process of navigating their adolescence and that love gets far more complicated and clumsy. At one point midway through the film, Neil’s father utters in regards to his reading of some of Neil’s slash fiction that the author must know nothing of how real human relationships work; this is profoundly wise and on-the-nose because there are very few teenagers who understand what love is, let alone are able to express it.
The film doesn’t do a great deal of character building and there are a many questions left unanswered, but the film doesn’t suffer for it. The performances of Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks are very strong. Both of them express emotion extremely well, from Neil’s confusion and uncertainty to Julia’s fear of commitment, false bravado, and insecurity. In addition to Johnston and Marks, the supporting character actors all hit their marks, with a notably strong performance from Michael Ian Black (Wet Hot American Summer, The State). The film also features a fun and sexy role from Angela Kinsey (The Office‘s Angela) and Missi Pyle (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s Mrs. Beauregarde) as a bitchy slash fiction writer.
When the film ends, you may be left scratching your head a bit or you may be swooning with adoration; but one thing is certain, you won’t be walking away thinking that you just saw another generic indie film. The offbeat nature of the film alone should prove endearing. This film gets a ringing endorsement and recommendation for fans of the quirky and nerdy, as well as anyone who has struggled to figure out where they belong.
And make sure to keep your eyes out at the Comic Con scene for a brief cameo from friend of the site and Austin film scenester, John Gholson.