'Slasher' offers thrills, some food for thought

​Opening with a crash of thunder and a blood-curdling scream, Urban Samurai's Slasher works to keep that intensity alive through its full 75 minutes. It's a task that's not completely met, but that doesn't mean the production doesn't have pieces that work.

Allison Moore's play explores the line between empowerment and exploitation on a low-budget horror flick. At the center of this is Sheena, a college student who wants to break out of her Texas town, but instead is the breadwinner for the family, working constant shifts at a bar to take care of her younger sister and disabled mother.

Mom Frances tools around the home on a scooter and rails against the male-dominated system. The two come to loggerheads when Sheena is cast in Bloodbath as "the last girl" by slimy director Marc. While she manages to bargain a good deal, she doesn't plan for her mother's own mania about the film or Marc.

As the plot blisters along, we get send ups of horror-film clichés, everyday conversations set to a symphony of off-stage screams and dried stage blood, and a finale that brings left-wing Sheena and a right-wing church together to stop the filming by any means necessary.

Slasher works best in these spaces -- screams, chainsaw noises, and the titular bath treated as just background objects in this world -- giving food for thought without laying the message on too thick. The meaning does come as well, though Moore gives both Sheena and Frances chances to make their cases, which at least gives us a sense of balance. Both, of course, have good points. Sheena is going into this work knowing full well what it entails; Frances has every right to worry about the general desensitization to violence.

That final point is certainly worthy of discussion, not in a "this is going to destroy the country if it hasn't already" vs. "I have the right to do what I want, even if that is showing someone's face being blowtorched off in slow motion," but something that searches for the nuances in each argument. If you consume TV or films or other media, you are likely soaked in blood from the endless police procedurals to serial killer flicks. 

In this case, I think more would have been more, especially in the motivations of Marc. Sure, he's a slimeball, but he also seems to have some love of the form. A bit more discussion about what makes these kinds of films tick for him -- or for young movie geek Jody -- would go a long way to filling out that side of the equation.

Moore's script gives the characters -- and some of their motivations -- a cartoonish tone, such as the sweet-talking church representative who has also added "special ops" to their efforts to stop the moral decay of the town. 

The main trio of actors -- Tamara Titsworth as Sheena, Muriel J. Bonertz as Frances, and Michael Lee as Marc -- do good jobs of balancing the outsized satiric side of the characters with real-life motivations, fears, and even love. The rest of the cast is uneven, with the younger actors struggling as much with volume as their characters. JoNae Villeneuve is fun as the multiple Bloodbath victims, by the end just changing wigs to represent the different, apparently interchangeable, characters.


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