Written & Directed by Austin Vesely
The city of Kingsport is unique in that it is home to 40,000 ghosts, most of whom died under tragic circumstances at the old mental hospital. Mayor Tracy cleared that building away to make room for a strip mall plaza and has relocated the wandering spirits to the Ghost Town neighborhood, effectively a ghetto. It’s been years since a significant supernatural occurrence in the city until tonight when a shadowy figure kills a pizza delivery boy. There are also reports of Dax Lycander, a werewolf who used to work for Yummy Yummy Chinese Delivery is back in town. Astrid, the pizza boy’s ex, is determined to avenge his murder and sets out to lure the killer out into the open. However, there is much more happening in the shadows of Kingsport that Astrid realizes.
Slice is a complete disaster of a movie that leans on it’s B-movie schlock roots as a means of excusing the inexcusable writing and tone of the film. While watching Slice, I was reminded of a very similar movie from a couple of years back, Freaks of Nature. Both films suffer from overcrowding in their cast of characters and needlessly overcomplicating their plots. They both desperately want to be wink-n-nudge comedy horror films but don’t seem to comprehend the first thing about what a tenuous balance of tone that sub-genre is.
I always look to Big Trouble in Little China as the perfect example of how you blend these elements. Big Trouble puts a comic protagonist in a severe world of fantasy and horror. The comedy doesn’t come from the antagonists, but rather our hero’s quips, ineptitude, and sheer dumb luck. You can also reference Gremlins as a movie that knows how to find and stay on that fine line between supernatural horror and comedy.
This was writer-director Austin Vesely’s first feature, and he makes many stumbles. He has made some music videos, also with Chance the Rapper who plays Lycander in Slice, but I never saw a strong visual aesthetic present once in this movie. The cinematography feels flat and bland. There’s no atmospheric play with the lighting or interesting shots & angles. It felt like the fragments of a television series that fail to add up to much of anything. I wanted to walk away from Slice at least feeling like I’d seen something from a creative, visionary mind, albeit structurally messy, but it was not to be.
There are so many characters introduced that by the time we get to the end of the second act it’s hard to know whom to care about or why you should. Lycander would seem the natural protagonist or even Astrid or possibly the two of them teaming up. They do team up just before the finale in such an awkwardly stupid moment. It’s the first time the characters meet the whole film, and Astrid says, I paraphrase here: “Hey, I don’t know you, but we should team up to stop the bad guy.” This leads to what is one of the worst finales I’ve seen in a movie. Anti-climatic doesn’t even do justice to how boring the final fight is. They hired the worst fight coordinator or didn’t have one on set. The fighting is slow and uninteresting, not even presented ironically. I genuinely believe the director wants us to think the battle we witness is “badass.”
Slice had some light hype surrounding the mysterious teaser trailer that dropped at the end of last year. I am always up for a music video director transitioning into features. Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Jonathan Glazer, Daniels, and David Fincher are all testaments to how a great music video director can merge strong stylistic choices with great storytelling and make some of the best damn movies around. Austin Vesely doesn’t come close to even making something middle of the road decent. I honestly can’t imagine anyone who is hyped about Slice walking away feeling satisfied with this picture. Here’s hoping for better the next time.