Although Slash is undeniably influenced by countless sensitive-boy coming-of-age films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Way Way Back, it is insidiously charming. Both Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks give likable and unaffected performances, though their characters’ sometimes cringe-worthy sincerity about the fan fiction world could be alienating for the uninitiated. It’s unclear whether the dramatisations of Neil’s stories, which have a ‘70s sci-fi b-movie vibe, are supposed to look as amateurishly awkward as they do.
Slash’s enduring food for thought and flash of uniqueness comes from frank and touching exploration of sexuality. It is in many ways like a queered John Green adaptation but with wittier dialogue and the guts to resist an all-out teen romance. Instead Neil’s confusion is cleverly refracted through his interest in erotic fan fiction. Liford uses this to offer a new take on the perils of online identity fraud, and to consider how this can affect a sexuality still in question. Like a cinematic earworm, Slash won’t let you forget it in a hurry.
Plenty of other elements are predictable though. Liford is clearly a good character writer, yet the supporting roles are lazily assembled rehashes – Neil’s parents, for example, resemble less funny versions of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson in Easy A. The dialogue too, can be derivative, and the trajectory of Neil and Julia’s friendship checks all the familiar boxes. The music can be an odd match, and a series of slight tonal missteps make for misleadingly disturbing moments.
Slash may be gutsy with its subject matter, but it lacks a confidently defined style. It’s a well-meaning but clumsy high school movie that nevertheless suggests Clay Liford is a name to watch. His weaknesses will surely fade with experience.
CAST: Michael Johnston, Hannah Marks, Deborah Abbott, Laura Bailey
DIRECTOR: Clay Liford
WRITER: Clay Liford
SYNOPSIS: Freshman Neil’s Vanguard stories are all he cares about until he meets the older Julia, who pushes him to put his own fan fic online. When the website’s moderator takes a special interest in Neil’s work, it opens up a whole new universe.