Clay Liford’s Slash explores the subculture of Slash fiction through the eyes of a 15 year old boy beginning to dip his toe into that world while dealing with his own sexual identity.
If you don’t quite know what Slash fiction is I’ve hyperlinked the wikipedia page above but be careful when searching on the internet for it as you might not like what you find. For the purposes of this film it is basically erotic fiction written by fans of something where they engage in sexual relationships that ordinarily would never be explored in the mainstream versions of it.
Neil (Michael Johnston) is the focus of this film who becomes inducted into this subculture through his own repressed exploration of one of his favourite characters. He writes erotic fan fiction about a fictional space hero named Vanguard (Tishuan Scott). The opening of the film is particularly effective in setting the tone for what will become an honest exploration of this idea. I love how low budget the dramatisation of this looked; if you think early Power Rangers then you get the idea of how corny it looks but it is done in such an endearing way that it’s hard not to get immediately invested.
What also struck me is how well rounded Vanguard seemed after only a few short minutes of screen time. Tishuan Scott fully commits to the performance of the polyamorous hero even though he is basically a caricature whenever he appears. The purpose is to present Slash fiction with a light touch and the mission is absolutely accomplished. As viewers we are encouraged not to make a big deal out of what we’re about to see and the film completely sticks with that.
Neil is a very likeable character well played by Michael Johnston. From the beginning he is established as a reserved and naive person with no social circle to speak of. He spends all his free time alone writing erotic fan fiction either on his computer or in his notebook. When his notebook is passed around the school he is brought to the attention of Julia (Hannah Marks) who helps him carve out his own identity.
From that point on he starts to explore what the subculture means to him and question his own sexuality as well as what sort of person he wants to be. It would have been so easy for Neil to be the typical shut-in but the script is far more sophisticated than that and crafts a fully formed young man simply confused about his personal and sexual identity. There is no point in the film where I wasn’t rooting for him and his experience ring true for anyone struggling to find acceptance. Many genre fans will be able to empathise with his struggle and will understand how difficult it is to be comfortable with yourself when your interests don’t match with whatever is mainstream.
That’s another thing the film does really well. Since Neil is the focus everything he does is considered to be a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do with any mainstream references being seen as unusual. I really appreciated how the normal perspective was flipped and that the comedy laughs with the outsiders rather than at them. It’s a clever subversion of the norm and it isn’t made out to be a big deal.
Julia is the opposite of Neil in many ways. She’s a little older but a lot more secure in herself and has far more experience with the subculture than he does. She also appears to be more secure in her sexuality so becomes a mentor for him and the friendship that grows is very unique and interesting. As the story progresses it is made clear that Julia is just as clueless as Neil is for the most part but hides it under bravado rather than trying to fade into the world. She learns just as much about life from Neil as she learns from him and that is ultimately what makes their friendship so compelling. Both of them are confused about their sexuality so it never quite matches up into being a romantic relationship beyond some attempts but the film has fun dancing around it.
Hannah Marks is great in the role and has excellent chemistry with Michael Johnston as well as the rest of the cast. No matter who is opposite her in a given scene entertainment is sure to be had and she helps carry the film when Neil’s reserved nature on its own wouldn’t.
Tackling “Slash fiction” as a concept has a lot of pitfalls when it comes to crafting a story. It’s no secret that many people consider it weird and it’s easy to understand why without agreeing with the reasons for thinking that. Personally it isn’t for me but any creative outlet people can find where they are able to express themselves without harming others is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. As subcultures go it’s as relevant as any other and this film portrays it in a positive light by showing people at various stages in their life who are dedicated to it without letting it consume them. The people who like to express themselves in this way are just people and I imagine everyone has something they enjoy that many people wouldn’t approve of. I was very impressed by how honest and progressive this film was without beating the audience over the head with the point it was trying to make.
If the film fails at anything it is with the supporting characters. They are all a little too broadly drawn to feel real which sometimes clashes with the honest exploration of the Slash fiction subculture. It is interesting to see the stereotypes flipped to favour the “outcasts” for a change but the lack of depth to most of the supporting characters let the narrative down slightly. It’s barely enough to notice and certainly doesn’t distract from the entertainment value.
An excellent film that explores a subculture that isn’t easily accepted in a mature and interesting way. The characters of Neil and Julia are the perfect lens to view this through as they are both at different stages of crafting their own identity and learn as much about life as each other in different ways. At times the supporting characters are too broadly drawn but it’s hardly noticeable.
- a mature and reasoned exploration of a particular subculture
- excellent lead characters
- the immense entertainment value throughout
- supporting characters that are sometimes too broadly drawn