'Slash': SXSW Review

Courtesy of SXSW
Not nearly as exciting as the tales its heroes supposedly write.

Two teens enter the "adult" world of writing pornographic fan-fiction.

"The Bronte sisters wrote fanfic," claim the teen heroes of Clay Liford's Slash, a coming-of-age pic set in the subculture of those who write unauthorized erotic stories about their favorite fictional characters. Well, that may be — but Emily and Charlotte probably brought more wit to their tales than do the authors here, whose klutzy fantasies are sometimes enacted film-within-a-film style. Writer-director Liford fares little better, missing most opportunities for humor and arousal in this sincere but flat picture. Real world fanfic enthusiasts may appreciate the attention, but most could probably hatch a more involving tale in the time it takes to scratch "Kirk + Spock 4 Evr" into a wooden bench.

Michael Johnston stars as Neil, an introvert who spends his after-school hours alone, inventing bawdy adventures for Vanguard, the hero of a series of sci-fi novels he likes. He has no idea his more socially adept classmate Julia (Hannah Marks) shares his hobby until he discovers The Rabbit Hole, an online forum for porny stories about what, say, Batman and Robin might get up to in the Batcave between showdowns with the Joker.

"You're so repressed, your stuff must be good," Julia tells Neil, and while her logic is questionable, she and the movie do decide his stories are works of brilliant eroticism. So much so that Neil is soon competing with Julia to read his work at a private ComicCon gathering organized by an editor (Michael Ian Black) who (not knowing Neil's underage) hopes to engage in some IRL shenanigans.

Marks is lively here as an intimidatingly worldly upperclassman with an elf-loving side, but Johnston's wet-blanket performance barely hints at the spark of fantasy the pic wants to fan into a self-fulfilled flame. Questions about the boy's sexuality don't intrigue as much as they should: Though his stories suggest a pansexual curiosity, Neil himself seems only mildly engaged, and sluggish direction keeps both scenes with the nerd's dream girl and the jailbait-courting man from generating much heat.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight)
Production companies: Arts + Labor, Boxcar Films
Cast: Michael Johnston, Hannah Marks, Michael Ian Black, Missi Pyle, Jessie Ennis, Peter Vack, Sarah Ramos
Director-screenwriter: Clay Liford
Producers: Brock Williams, Jason Wehling
Executive producers: Randy Sinquefield, Jesse Lyda, Louis Black
Director of photography: Ellie Ann Fenton
Production designer: Chelsea Turner
Costume designers: Nichole Hull, Annell Brodeur
Editors: Bryan Poyser, David Fabelo
Composers: Curtis Heath, Lauren Sanders
Casting director: J.C. Cantu
Sales: Nate Bolotin, XYZ Films

Not rated, 100 minutes