'Slasher': TV Review

Courtesy of NBC
Sometimes a cut above, frequently a cut below.
3/4/2016

Chiller's first original series about a masked killer terrorizing a small town is more hack than slash.

It's Halloween night in the sleepy small town of Waterbury, and there are trick or treaters galore. In one of the many suburban homes, a man and his pregnant wife make mundane small talk with the kind of studied archness that means death is about to come calling. Sure enough, the bell rings and there in the doorway stands, yikes, a masked man in black executioner's garb. The silent killer waits until his prey is fully cognizant that something is off (it is All Hallows Eve, after all), then … a machete to the man's chest and a squealing baby ripped from the mother's womb!

That's an effective way to begin Slasher, the Chiller network's first attempt at an original dramatic series, all eight episodes written by Aaron Martin and directed (very capably in the scare scenes) by Craig David Wallace. Yet the two installments made available for review are a mishmash overall, swinging frequently between the inspired and the inept, especially in terms of writing and performance.

Katie McGrath, recently seen being jointly devoured by pterodactyl and mosasaurus in Jurassic World, stars as the grown-up version of that poor infant from the first episode's teaser sequence. Her name is Sarah Bennett and she's decided to move back to the family murder house with her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) as a way of putting the past behind her. That's one way to confront your demons, though things are off from the moment the couple steps foot on the property as a belligerent neighbor (Mary Walsh) lambastes them for their open displays of intimacy.

There's also another problem: The Executioner, as the killer is known, appears to be back on the hunt, striking down anyone who runs afoul of the seven deadly sins. How can this be considering Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow), the man responsible for murdering Katie's parents, is behind bars? It doesn't take long before Katie is playing amateur detective, and using Winston, despite their sanguine history, as her Hannibal Lecter-like adviser. So many suspects: Could it be the priest (Rob Stewart) who survived the Executioner's first rampage? What about the local deadbeat drunk (Erin Karpluk) whose daughter vanished several years before? Hell, not even the Barney Fife-esque police officer (Steve Byers) is above suspicion.

Whether viewers will be intrigued enough to see this mystery to its end will depend on their willingness to wade through a lot of superficial soapiness. Martin cut his teeth as a writer and producer on Degrassi: The Next Generation, and like that ongoing teen melodrama, the characters in Slasher have a similarly cursory charm … or lack thereof. McGrath makes for a humdrum heroine whether she's playing Nancy Drew or doing some vocal cord-threading variation on the scream queen/final girl. Really, most of the purported good guys are dullards, despite Martin's admirable attempts at diversifying them beyond the usual racial, gender and sexual orientation norms. It's the antagonists, unsurprisingly, who get the meatiest stuff to chew on, be it Garrow's self-righteous psychopath, smugly pontificating on Bible verses and the nature of evil, or Walsh's prurient scold whose every word sounds like fire-and-brimstone damnation. 

Creator-writer-executive producer: Aaron Martin
Director: Craig David Wallace
Cast: Katie McGrath, Brandon Jay McClaren, Steve Byers, Patrick Garrow, Dean McDermott, Christopher Jacot, Wendy Crewson, Mary Walsh, Rob Stewart, Erin Karpluk, Enuka Okuma

Premiere date: Friday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (Chiller)

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