At this point in the horror cycle, one would assume nearly any and every bizarre, off-the-wall concept has been filtered through a slasher lens. How very wrong we all were. I didn’t even need to see a trailer to know that sloth-slasher Slotherhouse would be a must-see. Perhaps due to a lifelong dream of actually interacting with a real sloth, this species of animal has always held intrigue for me personally. Never would I have pictured a sloth popping a roofie in a woman’s drink, then violently slicing her to death with its claws, but writers Bradley Fowler and Cady Lanigan have envisioned a super-sweet deadly sloth named Alpha who does just that.
The gonzo premise begins in Darien Gap, Panama, where we observe a cute sloth crawling up a tree in her natural habitat. Something swipes her into the water, apparently killing her. Moments later, the truth is revealed—the creature was an alligator, but the “defenseless” sloth has actually tore open the alligator! Poachers hone in on the sloth, shooting her with a dart. Where will this sloth find herself a new home?
Our introduction to basically every character in the movie tells us their follower count, online persona, and a little blurb about them. Emily (Lisa Ambalavanar)—social media name Emmers—only has 824 followers, and longs to be the president of her sorority. How can she possibly get to the same level as Brianna (Sydney Craven)? Emily’s mother, once a president, is the stuff of legend. After bumping into a persuasive man at the mall who notes Emily’s love of animals and gives her his card, he plants the seeds of an idea. An “amazing pet” could be the perfect boost of Emily’s status, giving her the wildcard vote she needs to secure a spot as president.
It just so happens that this man is one of the poachers from the beginning. He arranges for Emily to come pick up the sloth; Emily finally brings her home to the sorority, and nearly everyone instantly falls in love with the sloth’s adorable nature. Brianna and her goons, however, will stop at nothing to get rid of the sloth eventually named “Alpha.” Emily announces that she will be running against Brianna, starting the hashtag #RushSloth trending in a major way. Alpha goes viral, skyrocketing Emily’s social stats. Every character other than Emily appears vapid and disposable, though I adored the drunken house mother with under 100 followers, Ms. Mayflower (Tiff Stevenson).
Clearly inspired by genre classics such as Gremlins and Child’s Play, Alpha is meant to be a horror icon for the ages. Practical effects from Creature Effects are Slotherhouse’s shining star. The creature looks equal parts adorable and oftentimes chilling with its beady red eyes. It is hard not to want to take an Alpha home, even in the midst of a hilarious murder montage. I loved the way many of the kills were filmed. Why go for a PG-13 instead of an R-rating? One’s guess is as good as mine. Any great slasher movie typically relies on effective kills to create lasting power. However, there is a beauty in Slotherhouse’s simplicity. One scene where we see little more than a flash of claws coupled with blood splatter is shockingly effective. Not every horror flick needs to feature gory guts or explosions, though Slotherhouse loses the chance to lean even heavier into its slasher trappings. A sequence with an electrical wire in a shower steals the show.
Visually, Slotherhouse does a lot on a relatively small budget, thanks to creative direction from Matthew Goodhue. A clever depiction of social media, portraying hashtags, hearts, and reactions transposed atop characters in Sims-esque bubbles, provides an extra layer of lushness to the visuals. The film is also overflowing with clever horror references. My personal favorite of these involves Alpha, and a shot almost exactly emulating Michael Myers from the ending of the original 1978 Halloween.
With Slotherhouse, the creative team poaches exactly what they promise, if not perfectly. A fast-paced final act sadly feels hampered by poor lighting, often too dark to make out precisely what happens. There are also maybe a few too many survivors for my liking. The movie has flaws, yet remains fun and entertaining at all times. Is the price of popularity worth potentially having one’s throat ripped out by a rabid, territorial sloth? Slotherhouse makes an argument for deleting social media all together, and snatching up a cute pet instead. Who needs followers when they can nab a non-deadly sloth for free?
Prepare to pledge the Slotherhouse when the film heads to select theaters on Friday, August 30th.