Slaxx (2020)

Slaxx first published by

“They’re Fairtrade, sweatshop-free and 120% organic,” says Peyton Jules (Erica Anderson), model and spokeswoman for Canadian Cotton Clothiers (or CCC), a chain of clothing stores whose latest line of jeans, the Super Shapers, will go on the shelves at exactly 8 o’clock the following morning. In a branch of CCC, Libby McClean (Romane Denis) has just been signed up to work the floor – a job which she has dreamt of having since she was a teenager – and is now joining a small team of staff who are locked in to prepare the store for tomorrow’s ‘Monday Madness’ sales. Wide-eyed Libby is a true believer, having swallowed hook, line and sinker CCC’s professed ethos of being a right-on, equitable company with a real concern for its global ‘family’ of employees, and a commitment to promoting a healthy, natural lifestyle. Yet that absurd claim of being ‘120% organic’ contains its own refutation, and over this long night, all the company’s hypocrisies and lies are going to assume super shape in the guise of a pair of bloodthirsty jeans, out for justice and revenge.

Elza Kephart’s ‘killer clothing’ satire Slaxx falls somewhere between Peter Strickland’s In Fabric (2018) and Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play reimagining (2019). For while CCC, with its brightly lit, luridly colour-coded store zones (or ‘ecosystems’) and shabbier backrooms, may be a long way from the stuffy Seventies English department store Dentley & Soper’s, or the high-tech toy-making Kaslan Corporation, it still operates along the lines of a cult – with CEO Harold Landsgrove (Stephen Bogaert) its charismatic Jobs-like guru, and store manager Craig (Brett Donahue) its enforcer of company doctrine – while carefully concealing from the public its hellish means of production and objectifying attitude towards human capital. CCC might brand itself as a woke organisation for the self-congratulatory customer, but the very initials of its latest product, SS, which are emblazoned on badges worn by the staff, point to a more fascistic structure behind that façade of corporate enlightenment – and this impression is only enhanced by the way that ‘Robot King’ Craig runs his crew, with his love for empty jargon and gestures towards political correctness, and his utter disregard for staff welfare. 

Craig’s in-store ethos reflects CCC’s broader corporate policy on extra-territorial work and subcontracting – a policy which further embodies the state of our globalised clothing industries in general. As Libby’s jaded colleague Shruti (Sehar Bhojani) puts it, “How do you think they can make a pair of jeans for $5 and sell them for 150?” This latest must-have apparel has been produced on the blood, sweat and tears – but mostly blood – of invisible cheap foreign labour. When Slaxx opens with scenes of a young woman hand-picking cotton from an experimental field in India, it is an image that resonates with a long history of American slavery, only here outsourced – and even if that girl is kept far from the view of CCC’s clamouring clientèle, Elza Kephart’s film offers a fantasy of an underclass uprising, as an army of haunted jeans bites back against the consumers who are complicit in their unethical manufacture.

“You guys were supposed to be the good guys,” says the rapidly disillusioned Libby, “I came here to do good.” The problem for her – and for all of us – is the hard truth in Craig’s reply: “And get half-price clothes.” This is the thorny dilemma at the heart of the matter: our craving to define both ourselves and our self-image by items whose ill-gotten, exploitative provenance we wilfully overlook makes an ill fit with our ability to look ourselves in the mirror while wearing them. So Slaxx is horror of a highly political, accusatory stamp, sending up the slick corporate culture that makes our High Street brands seem more acceptable and attractive than they should be, and confronting us with the question of how free we are ourselves from blame, and how deserving of retribution.

If this sounds a lot, Slaxx is also absurdly funny, sweetening its bitter pill with hilarious skewerings of hipster posturing, and even with the odd (and I mean odd) song and dance number (to the Bollywood hit Hamara India). 

Summary: Putting the cult in corporate culture, Elza Kephart’s killer jeans horror comedy avenges exploitation in a globalised clothing industry

© Anton Bitel