Fantasia 2016: Slash Review

Jessie Ennis plays Martine, Michael Johnston plays Neil and Hannah Marks plays Julia in the film Slash. It was shown in Montreal during the Fantasia International Film Festival.
Jessie Ennis plays Martine, Michael Johnston plays Neil and Hannah Marks plays Julia in the film Slash. It was shown in Montreal during the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Slash is a coming-of-age film with an easy rapport between the main actors, Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks. They play Neil, 15, and Julia,16, fellow high-school students who both write erotic fanfiction. They only become aware of each other after Neil drops his notebook at school, other students grab it, read from it and mock him. Would a guy who’s already a bit of an outsider bring his notebook to school and risk such exposure? I have my doubts, but these characters have to be brought together somehow, and they are cute together, so I’ll go along with it.

We see excerpts from Neil’s somewhat overwrought stories, about his favourite hero, Vanguard, acted out onscreen. Some of those scenes were shot at the Vasquez Rocks outside of Los Angeles, the same place where many Star Trek scenes were shot.  Until now I had assumed that those Star Trek rocks were made out of plaster – they looked fake to me back in the day and they still look fake to me now, but that fake look and the Star Trek connection just add more cheesiness to Neil’s stories.

Julia indicates that she has an unhappy home life, even though we don’t actually see it, and Neil hasn’t figured out his sexuality yet, so they both need as much friendship and moral support as they can get. Julia encourages Neil to lie about his age and submit his writing to an Internet site called the Rabbit Hole. Soon Neil is getting friendly messages from an older man. Oh, oh. For Neil, the possibility of meeting that man adds a frisson to their attendance at a Houston comic-con that has a minor slash component hidden away behind closed doors.

I liked Slash, though the lively Julia makes Neil seem bland. She might have made a better main character.

According to some Internet comments, writer-director Clay Liford does not present an accurate picture of slash culture. I have no way to know if that is so, but I confess that the accusations tainted my enjoyment a bit. Here’s a link to a review on The Daily Dot, by Aja Romano, who says the film is “Beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted” but “For all it may be a movie titled Slash, its depiction of slash is completely wrong. It is a bizarre, distorted, inaccurate, outdated, inexplicably porn-obsessed, and inexplicably male-centric version of slash fiction and slash fandom that doesn’t reflect reality.” Romano also says that “Julia still bears all the earmarks of a classic manic pixie dreamgirl.”

Romano includes a link to another article, “A guide to fanfiction for people who can’t stop getting it wrong,” that she co-wrote with Gavia Baler-Whitelaw.

Clay Liford told IndieWire that he did lots of research before making the film, though the world he describes doesn’t sound like the one presented by Romano and Baler-Whitelaw. If you write fanfic yourself, feel free to comment below!

On the other hand, as someone who has never owned a car and has many car-less friends, the car culture and world of privilege that Neil and Julia live in seem more foreign to me than slash culture does – Julia is only 16 but she seems to have access to an expensive-looking SUV whenever she wants it, and the two of them (just 15 and 16, remember) check into a Houston hotel without any difficulties at all.

I watched Slash via online screener at the 2016 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Slash, written and directed by Clay Liford, with Michael Johnston, Hannah Marks, Missi Pyle, Jessie Ennis, Peter Vack, Sarah Ramos, Michael Ian Black, Tishuan Scott.

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