Todd (Jesse Williams) writes a comic book inspired by a real-life serial killer known as Slasherman. The murders took place in and around the small town where Todd grew up and caught people’s interest because of their brutal and seemingly random nature. The killer was never caught but Todd has made him the hero of his graphic novels. Slasherman doesn’t just kill, his murder scenes are the canvas to a very bloody work of art.
The Slasherman comic books are coming to an end. Todd’s publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel) has arranged for a little book tour of sorts, through small town Americana, where Todd can draw inspiration and push through the writer’s blog that’s plaguing his last issue. Joining them on the road is his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster). Kathy’s got a mission of her own. She’s interviewing anyone with ties to Slasherman’s actual victims. She’s worried that Todd’s work fetishizes horrific crime and glorifies the perpetrator. She wants to keep the victims in people’s memories, but to Todd, and from the story-teller’s perspective, the victims’ stories are finished but Slasherman lives on. As you can imagine, it’s a point of contention between them.
But ethical debates are soon going to fall by the wayside because this little press tour is going to attract more attention than they’d planned for. Someone is committing the exact same murders Todd has illustrated in his book. Shit’s about to get real, boiiiiii.
Jay Baruchel turns director for this film (he cowrote it as well, with Jesse Chabot, based on the comic by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) and clearly has a handle on what a slasher flick should be. He plays around with colour in an interesting way, he fleetingly touches on themes like our fascination with anti-heros and whether they legitimize violence, but ultimately, it styles itself a horror film and it delivers the goods: dread and gore.
This is a movie based on a comic book about a guy who writes a comic book about a serial killer protagonist who then gets stalked by a serial killer himself. There are so many levels of meta it’s best not to do the math. It wants to say something about the implications of consuming graphic violence while also presenting graphic violence. It has a brain, but most of all it has guts. Guts galore. The violence may or may not be random, but it is brutal and it is varied. Enjoy.
At an elite private boarding school, five “factions” rule the school. I’ve gone and put factions into quotation marks because these factions are taken so seriously they feel more like the mob. And each one has an equally fearsome mob don at the top. To ensure a smooth school year, these gangs make temporary alliances, but rest assured that they each mob has its own interests at heart. The head of the most powerful faction – The Spades – is of course our girl Selah (Lovie Simone) and her trusted consigliere is Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome) (if you don’t speak gangster, a consigliere is an advisor and right hand man).
It took me a minute to even pinpoint this movie’s setting as a high school because there’s nothing tongue in cheek about this; they take it VERY seriously. Most of all Selah, who knows her power comes from being feared and loved in equal measure, both of which require a certain distance to achieve. So though she is indisputably the most popular girl in school, she is lonely and basically friendless, other than Maxxie. And Maxxie’s about to become dangerously distracted by a new love. So there’s a juicy spot open for Selah’s new protégé, and in fact this role is in desperate need of filling since Selah is a senior with no one to pass the baton to. Enter: Paloma (Celeste O’Connor). Paloma is neither as charming nor as callous as Selah but she’s something much more important: likable. Paloma proves very worthy of the position, rising in prominence among the factions a little too easily for Selah’s comfort. Being number one for so long has painted Selah with insecurity, and if Paloma was once a friend, she is now a threat – Selah will not give up control one day before graduation, and is willing to go to some pretty sinister lengths to ensure it.
The young cast of Selah and the Spades is very talented and very watchable, even if their characters are all shades on the despicable spectrum. The film takes the concept of “cliques” and heightens it to make a point: high school is a dangerous game. Selah may be an unlikable protagonist but you can’t argue that she isn’t complex. All of the characters in writer-director Tayarisha Poe’s film are layered and interesting. Teenagers are treated with the respect they deserve, although not always with the respect they demand. Poe’s notion of high school is not unlike the seediest underbelly of organized crime, everyone ready to stab each other in the back the moment anyone shows vulnerability.
Tayarisha Poe’s film is like a rock veined with gold. There are flashes of brilliance but no one’s striking it rich. For me, the film ended right where it should have begun. Our protagonist is treated more like an antagonist and it leaves us mildly confused, moderately disappointed, and largely unsatisfied.