Hey, friends! Barbarella here to confess that I enjoy silly horror movies, and SLAXX, which comes out tomorrow, certainly fits the bill. SLAXX tells the story of jeans that murder people. Yeah, you read that right. Taking place almost entirely in a retail store, the movie is full of gags. Although I laughed plenty, it’s not without some messages about the world of retail, social media influencers, and assumptions people make about each other. I got a chance to speak with the director and co-writer, Elza Kephart, and I had to find out if there’d be a sequel. Check it out.
Would you ever consider doing a sequel with T-shirts? Why or why not?
“No, no. I think SLAXX is a standalone film."
Oh, that's too bad; it was a really fun movie. I think y'all did a wonderful job capturing the world of retail. How do you and your co-writer, Patricia Gomez, know so much about that? Have either of you worked in retail?
“Yeah, Patricia worked at The Gap for two years in university, so she provided a lot of details. I worked as a temp when I was out of college, and even though it wasn't a retail experience, it was still a very corporate experience, so we sort of melded the two together.”
And you've worked with her before. How did you two meet?
“We were in the same circle of friends in high school, and we met at a party, and sort of as a joke, we decided to make a zombie movie together. Then we actually really did make it, and so we became friends and writing partners after that.”
And would you describe what a writing session is like for you?
“I mean, there isn't a specific way we work. It really depends who's bringing the idea. Typically, once we have a basic story, I like to dive in to the script itself to get the characters’ voices, because I find often characters will guide you in a way that you hadn't necessarily planned if you were just logically writing out an outline. Patricia is really good with genre conventions and actions and plot twists and all that, so she will often do a pass with that in mind.”
How did the story evolve? I mean, did you start out talking about jeans that adjust to your size, or did you start out wanting to make a film about jeans that kill you? What was the beginning of that?
“We were on a road trip with a third friend of ours, and our friend hates the word “slacks,” so we kept repeating it over and over to really annoy her, and then it ended up sounding like a pair of killer pants, and I turned to Patricia, and I was like, “I think this is a pair of killer pants. I think there is a movie in there.” And she was like, "Yes."
“So, we wrote two drafts, one that was set in a high school, which was pretty bad, very conventional and crap, and then another one, which was at the store, was getting a bit closer, then the third one, which really skewered the retail world and was really more of a message film. It took a long time to come to that point, but it all really started off as a joke.”
You make some great points in this film. What do you think is the most important message?
“I would say to understand how corporations are really instrumental in brainwashing us to consume. That we think consuming is sort of a natural part of our lives, but it's really not. The desire's really been planted in there by corporations to make profit and at the expense of people's well-beings and financial well-being and expense of the planet, pretty much.”
What scene was the most hilarious to film and why?
“Oh, what's hilarious? I would say that's a good one. Usually people ask me what was the hardest scene to film. I think the most hilarious was the one with Craig and Libby in the bathroom where they discover something – I won’t say what – and it was hilarious in a way, because it's very simple and because it was just the actors acting, but there's something so wonderfully creepy and disturbing, so I don't know if it was hilarious, but it was the most entertaining to watch come together.”
I would have been cracking up on set the whole time. Did you have trouble with anybody just laughing too much?
“No, the actors were really professional, but sometimes there were just bloopers. Craig had so much dialogue, and sometimes he would come out with these bloopers that were just hilarious. Like once, the line was "It's sort of like communism, but not really," and he said, "It's sort of like capitalism, but not really." We were like, “Bah-hah-hah!” I mean, Sehar Bhojani, who plays Shruti, is pretty hilarious, so she would crack up a lot just because she's such a funny person. She kept the atmosphere really light. And Erica Anderson, who plays Peyton Jules, also is very, very funny, and her mind was so absurd. Actually, I would say that the scene when she walks into the store and decides that she wants the pants, and they're not there yet, I think that was one of the funniest because she takes herself so seriously, but it's ludicrous.”
What do you think is more dangerous? Social media influencers or adjustable, form-fitting clothing?
“(Laughing) That's a good question. I would say influencers because they influence your brain, and it's always more dangerous to have someone tinkering in your brain than [something] cutting off your circulation. We're not always aware of what's going on in [our brains], but we can tell if a piece of clothing is too tight. If things cut off your circulation, you could just take them off, but it's really a lot of work to undo the tinkering in the brain.”
That is true. What do you value the most about the crew on SLAXX? Were there any crew members who really stood out, and if so, what made them stand out?
"They were super, super professional. They knew we had a lot to do in a very, very little amount of time, so I really admired their professionalism, and they just brought it. They didn't waste a minute. I really liked working with the stunt coordinator because I was deftly afraid of stunts, of having anything to do with stunts, and he was super gentle, and he really taught me a lot about how the stunts work and really how to trust myself, even if I didn't know how stunts were supposed to look or how they were supposed to turn out. He just taught me to trust that if something doesn't feel right in the stunt or in the special effects on the set, it's not going to ever look right. It’s got to feel right on the set. Don't rely on fixing it in post.”
How close does the movie get to the original vision of it?
“Oh, very close, I would say. I think it's actually a bit more serious than I imagined, but in a good way. I think I wasn't quite sure how it was going to turn, and then when the actors came on set, and when the DP came and started shooting, I could see that it actually had a real weight to it, which surprised me. After a couple of days, I was like, “Whoa, this is a bit more serious than I thought it was going to be.” But, in the end, I think that was better.”
If you had an extra $3 million for this, what would you have done differently?
“I don't think I would have done anything differently because I think part of what made SLAXX work is because it was such a tight budget for what we were trying to do, it really forced us to squeeze everything out of the script. Maybe more shooting days, but in the end…sometimes I feel filmmaking is like a crucible, where you need that sort of intense pressure to make something good come out, so I think the budget was just right in the end.”
What was some of the advice or notes that you gave the cast regarding performances?
“Well, for the Sehar and Romane, they really enjoyed working with each other, so I would have to remind them that they were supposed to be scared because they would just be laughing all the time. Then I worked really hard with Brett Donahue to create Craig's arc because he has quite a fine, detailed arc, and so we worked really closely to make sure the gradation was believable.”
Who do you think was the funniest person on set?
“The pants, of course. I'd have to say the person who played Lord, Kenny Wong, was pretty hilarious. He kept us all in stitches. Sehar was really funny as well. Both of them.”
On a scale of one to ten, how funny do you think you are?
“I'm pretty funny. Eight.”
What about Patricia?
“Oh, she's quite funny, but more sarcastic. She cracks me up. That's why we're a good team.”
Do you ever read your own reviews? Why or why not?
"No, I try not to because it just makes me too anxious. If there's a really good bit, someone will tell me, and then I'll read it, but I prefer not to because the film is made. I guess I could say, “I could always learn,” but there's too many reviews. I just would rather focus on the next project.”
Do you get stressed out before, during, after the film, or do you just manage to stay calm throughout the whole process?
“It's pretty stressful. I mean, it's an enormous amount of things that need to happen in a very short amount of time, and if one thing goes off the rails, then it could affect the whole thing. I mean, I try to stay calm on set, even though I'm nervous, because I do think that a director can guide the tone of a project by their behavior, but it's definitely stressful. Then the editing, well, it's always a different film than you imagined, so it's stressful trying to figure out what to do with what you have, and then it's stressful knowing how the film is going to be received.
“So, filmmaking, in general, is stressful, or art is. Hopefully, now that I know that I've made a film that's quite complicated and strange, next time I will be not as stressed and sort of trust myself that with everything I know, my instincts, I can accomplish something.”
If they did a movie of your life, who would you want to play you?
“Tilda Swinton. People have told me I look like Tilda Swinton, which I don't really, but I have this Tilda Swinton vibe, but I love Tilda Swinton; she's so badass.”
What's the most daring thing you've ever done in the name of art?
“I would say my second feature GO IN THE WILDERNESS was pretty daring because we shot a movie about the retelling of the Adam and Eve story, and I wanted to shoot in sort of insane landscapes, so we shot on an island that was a twelve-hour drive north of Montreal and then a half-hour Zodiac ride to the island and then a good half-hour walk across the island to get the first shot of the film.”
What's the craziest thing you've done in the name of art?
"The craziest thing? I would say my first feature with Patricia, GRAVEYARD ALIVE is probably the craziest thing. Patricia was a scientist at the time; she'd never set foot anywhere near a film, and we decided to make a low-budget zombie feature with no money. We just picked a date to start shooting, and we sort of did it without necessarily having the money in place. And yeah, I would say that was the craziest first experience, really trusting ourselves that it was going to come together.”
And didn't that film win some awards?
“Yeah. Yeah. It won a best cinematography at Slamdance, and, I think, best comedy with the Rhode Island Film Festival. I think, best film at the Boston Underground Film Festival. Yeah.”
Was that a huge surprise or were you kind of thinking maybe it had a shot at that?
“It was a total surprise. I mean, we did it sort of as a lark. At first, we were going to play the characters ourselves and shoot it on super 8, and then as the project grew, we realized that it was garnering interest, and it could go elsewhere perhaps, but we were so shocked that it got into Slamdance. I think when we shot it, I was twenty-three and she was twenty-four. So that was a really big surprise.”
If people came with warning labels, what would yours say?
“Oh shit. Oh actually, I know! "She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good or for evil."
Do you have anything on the horizon?
“Yeah. I'm finishing a French-language script set in Quebec, same SLAXX producing team. It's a midlife crisis, possession film that we hope to get in production soon. And then I'm working on a couple of TV projects with the same writer that I wrote the possession script with, and then the TV show about vampires that I co-wrote with Patricia.”
All that sounds like fun.
“Hopefully someone will want to produce it.”
Are you planning on sticking with the horror genre then?
“Yeah, I've always loved horror. That's what I feel most called to, so I don't think I could ever write anything else. So yeah, it's just my natural interest.”
I agree that Elza Kephart is pretty funny; her film certainly made me laugh. SLAXX will be available September 7, 2021 on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD. Here’s a trailer with a ton of spoilers, and I mean a ton. If you are okay with experiencing almost no surprises while watching a film, then I guess you should check it out. Personally, I think SLAXX would be more fun going in blind, as long as you go in expecting something pretty silly, which you should. it's a movie about murderous denim, afterall, so you should absolutely know what you're getting yourself into.