Slice. 2018. Directed & Written by Austin Vesely.
Starring Zazie Beetz, Chance the Rapper, Chris Parnell, Y’lan Noel, Paul Scheer, Austin Vesely, Rae Gray, Will Brill, & Kelli Simpkins.
Rated R. 83 minutes.
Disclaimer: The following article contains heavy spoilers. Turn back, lest ye be spoiled!
Slice came with a bunch of hype because of Chance the Rapper, and Zazie Beetz is on the rise, so it’s always exciting to see her name in a cast, too. Sadly, the movie doesn’t add up to much more than a chaotic mess. It tries being a throwback to the 1980s, between the score, some of the effects, and the general atmosphere. Even in that sense, it never gets where it’s trying to go. At the same time, it’s not without commentary.
If there’s a message to be had, you know Father Gore’s going to dig it out!
The plot concerns Perfect Pizza Base— a little shop built over the ground of an old asylum in the city of Kingfisher, the basement of which was coincidentally the portal to Hell. The city’s also home to ghosts, werewolves, and other creatures of the night. Regular citizens can’t get along with the ghosts, so the dead are segregated in Ghost Town. Once a bunch of pizza delivery drivers start getting killed, the ghosts are blamed, but the situation’s far more complex.
What this movie gets right is its identity as a horror-comedy focused on social issues. It’s not trying to write a treatise on racial relations, though its commentary is difficult to ignore. From the white witches disguising their deviousness with social justice to a community of different groups learning to co-exist and maybe even work together, Slice never holds back on using horror tropes and expected genre characters – witches, ghosts, werewolves – to skewer just how divided our society’s become.
Right away, director-writer Austin Vesely touches on issues relating to urbanism and modernity. We hear about the “beautification of Kingfisher” relating to the urban renewal of the city. This leads into one of the main plots, concerning problems with gentrification and old burial grounds being paved over to make way for shopping centres and other city mainstays. A group called Justice 40,000 protest the development of these areas and warn of the “greater evil that is capitalism.” The group worry about erasure of the past, further suggestive of our modern inability to reconcile the past and present by subscribing to the capitalist idea of creative destruction. There’s also the citywide trouble of “relations between the living and the dead,” which so obviously mirrors the tenuous racial relations of white people and people of colour in big cities. Immediately the table’s set for modern social commentary using a horror story as its mask.
The racial angle of Slice is never not present. One cop says: “God, I hate werewolves— scum of the earth.” He recounts an accidental vehicular homicide in which his father was killed by a werewolf. You could replace werewolves with a non-white racial group and this whole monologue would fit perfectly with actual white attitudes about POC. The scene’s a mark of great satire: at once hilarious and painfully truthful.
Added to the werewolf-hating cop, Dax Lycander (Chance the Rapper) has to deal with constant stereotyping being a werewolf. He’s presumed violent by everyone he encounters and he’s automatically linked to the crimes. Father Gore doesn’t need to point out the irony of his being a BLACK werewolf, right? He repeats he’s “not that kinda werewolf,” and nobody seems to listen.
“All you have is a grudge, and grudges don’t hold up in court.”
Slice is at its best when satirising modern issues, such as its aim at gentrification. Vesely cleverly employs the use of the word halcyon, which denotes a period of time in the past considered idyllically happy and peaceful. This fits well because of the racial themes. Halcyon’s a perfect word for the way whites – the racist or xenophobic ones – look back on the past and see a perfect age, whereas people of colour, and here we’re talking especially about black people in America, have a decidedly different view of the past. The former psychiatric hospital where Perfect Pizza Base now stands was called Halcyon Days Asylum. Various institutions/buildings in Kingfisher are named similarly. With this gentrification of old spaces, the word halcyon specifically links things to a sense of whiteness, particularly once the truth about Justice 40,000 emerges.
Justice 40,000’s women are eventually revealed as powerful witches. No coincidence these women are all white, either. The irony with these ladies is evident in the way they fight against capitalism and gentrification but simultaneously blame ghosts/others for Kingfisher’s violent crime. They’re the worst of white feminism, epitomised by being real witches rather than normal women accused unjustly of witchcraft.
Vesely utilises the witches to satirise all of the typical white liberals who may be in favour of some ‘good’ social things while actively working against important things— i.e. it’s great white women are concerned about gentrified neighbourhoods, and likewise totally redundant when they perpetuate racist attitudes towards the people in those neighbourhoods. This is one of the most ingenious aspects of the screenplay, and it’s so timely for 2018.
This may not be what genre fans expected. At the worst of times, the movie’s a sloppy, hot mess of ’80s homage + comedy + slasher horror. At the best of times, it’s a scorching social satire aimed at hip modern audiences. Somewhere in between, Slice falls into the category of fun yet forgettable horror.
Father Gore can ignore a messy movie when there are other things going on. Vesely’s movie at least has its satire to fall back on, allowing him to comically comment on our society’s problems. He tackles gentrification’s negative effects by putting a pizza shop over an asylum which is also the gateway to Hell. He takes down white feminists by casting them as witches who’ve ignored everyone else in favour of themselves. He punches up at institutions trying to capitalise on the “arbitrary divisions” separating people in cities all over America.
In the end, Kingfisher, as a community, comes together in order to fend off the malevolence of the witches and their nefarious agenda. Cheesy as it is – get it? – the community uniting across their divisions is ultimately a hopeful message. Maybe real people can’t or won’t ever come together like the werewolves, ghosts, and living humans of Kingfisher. We can all certainly hold out hope.