By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Opening across Canada today following an award-winning world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, SLAXX is a bloody and satirical showcase for a new screen creature: a homicidal pair of blue jeans. It arrives at Canadian Cotton Clothiers, which is (allegedly) devoted to fair-trade, ethically sourced couture, just as the store is about to undergo an overnight lockdown as the staff prepares for a Monday Madness event. As the killer pants begin to claim victims, only new employee Libby (Romane Denis) realizes what’s happening, and tries to alert the others there’s a denim demon in their midst. (See our review here.)
SLAXX is the third feature from Canadian director Elza Kephart, who scripted it with producer Patricia Gomez Zlatar. RUE MORGUE has been following the project since Kephart first pitched it at the Frontières Co-Production Market at Fantasia three years ago; go here for a report on that. The movie has, appropriately, undergone some alterations on its long walk to the screen…
What kinds of changes has SLAXX gone through from initial concept to the final film?
Well, to be honest, the original, original concept came about in 2001. I was on a road trip with my friend Patrica Gomez, who wound up co-writing SLAXX, and we were comparing which words we hated the most. She hated the word “slacks,” so I was mercilessly teasing her, going, “Slacks, slacks, slacks!” We thought, wow, that sounds so terrible—it sounds like a horror movie! It started out very different; it was in a high-school setting, and the pants were killing the students. Seven years later, we rewrote it, finally setting it in the store, but it still didn’t have the political message it now does. It was only four years later that it dawned on me that obviously a film about killer pants should be about fast fashion, and the destructiveness of that. So it changed quite a bit from the initial intent.
Now, the film is pretty similar to that script Patricia and I rewrote two years ago. I would say we stuck pretty much to what was on the page. It’s maybe darker; it’s comedic, but it’s more absurd comedy, where there are jokes but it’s not campy–if you can believe that a film about killer pants is not campy [laughs]. There are definitely some good, grotesque, bloody moments.
Can you tell us some more about that political angle?
I think it’s super-timely because of global climate change, and how fast-fashion companies, which are the second most polluting industry in the world, do not take responsibility for what they’re creating. They’re creating a huge amount of pollution through transportation, though cleaning materials, through creating wants that people don’t need. People buy clothes and throw them out, and where do they go? Into landfills, or they get shipped off to Africa–which is true; it’s like, “We don’t want all your fucking clothes.” To me, it’s about how that system spans the globe and destroys the globe, from one end of the production chain to the other.
And how bloody does it get?
It gets pretty bloody! The goriest scene, I would say, had the entire floor of the location covered in blood.
How did you find a store location that would allow you to throw all that blood around?
We didn’t shoot in an open store. We shot in three places, actually. For the floor, we shot in an empty store space in an outdoor shopping center and had to rebuild the entire store, but that wasn’t where the bloodiest scene was set. We filmed that in an old warehouse in the east end of Montreal. We had to shoot at night because it was still operational; that’s where we bloodied the entire floor, but I’m not sure they really knew because no one was there. And then we shot in the back area of another mall on the south shore of Montreal, again at night. All the offices, the back corridors, the bathrooms… We got blood on one of the bathrooms, but we cleaned it up really good, so no one was the wiser!
Tell us about your cast.
We were super-lucky to get Romane Denis, who is not well-known outside of Quebec but is very well-known there. She’s been acting since she was 10, and she’s been on a ton of TV shows, she’s been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, and her English is absolutely perfect. I think she’s got a great future ahead of her. And we have Stephen Bogaert, who played the evil father in the IT movies, as the evil store owner. He came in for a day from Toronto and just lit up that role with his creepy frat-boy aura.
How about your other star–the killer pants themselves? How were they created?
It was a combination. We had different rigs for different scenes. Like when the pants were walking, they were stuffed with fabric and rigged to a puppeteer, a woman dressed in a green suit with these sort of prongs coming out of her, so when she walked, the pants moved with her. For close-ups of the pants, the back of them were cut out so she could put her hands through to animate the front. The back pockets and the waist form the eyes and the mouth, at key moments, not all the time; I didn’t want it to look too much like a puppet. And then when the pants fly at people, they’d be on wires, so it really depended on the shot and the movement.
When it came to the puppeteer, Marie-Claude Labrecque, it was the guys who did the special effects, Carlo Harrietha and Jean-Mathieu Bérubé, who suggested her. I had a meeting with her, and we got along super-well. She’s been puppeteering for 20 years, and really understood the feeling behind it. I didn’t audition anyone else. We also had an artist named Bruno Gatien doing some of the makeup effects.
Did you have the pants specially made, or did you buy them off the rack?
We bought them, but we wanted to make sure to buy fair-trade organic pants, because in the film, that’s what the store says but in the end it’s total bullshit. They’re made in Montreal, by a really fair company. They buy special Japanese denim and make it in town under really fair conditions. We just went to them and said, “Hey, we’re making this movie about killer pants,” and the director of marketing was like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing! We’ll help you out.” We went to their store and tried on all different pairs, and picked the one that looked the best. It had a super-interesting fabric, because it’s made with the actual indigo plant, so it has a very weird look.
I assume there was never any thought given to creating the jeans via CGI.
No, I always wanted to do them practically, because it was important that they be organic, that they really feel like a character. Not to say that CGI can’t, because I know they spend bajillions of dollars making animated characters look real, but I feel that when you have something tangible in the film, your eye buys it more because it’s actually there. It was also important, because they’re the main character, that we could have actors interact with the pants. And when I directed the puppeteer actress, I could see it in front of me. It’s like when you have an actor on the set; you have something in your mind, and then they bring something to you that’s sometimes better. So I wanted the pants’ movement to come from a real human, because the pants are human, in a sense, and having them puppeteered live infused them with that human element, rather than creating that through digital effects.
How much did Frontières help in getting SLAXX off the ground?
It was instrumental for sure, because we were selected to pitch at the Directed by Women session in 2017, and that’s where we found Anne-Marie Gélinas, our other producer. She heard our pitch and literally called us the next day, and was like, “We have to make this movie!” Then they showed the trailer at Cannes, where it was really well-received, and got some interest from sales agents. So it was pretty helpful, because I’m not always the best at pitching. It was great to have a stage where I could present the concept and people were forced to listen to me, rather than stand awkwardly at a cocktail party saying to people, “Will you hear my idea about killer pants?”