Breathing life into a tired genre (coming of age and/or coming out in the American suburbs), Clay Liford’s Slash is an authentic portrait of a young man exploring his sexuality in a healthy way while actually not having sex. A kinder gentler picture than Liford’s horror comedy Wuss, Slash follows the adventures of 15-year old Neil (Michael Johnston) who pens erotic fan fiction about a masculine comic book hero Vanguard. In his postings he’s essentially kicking the bucket as he brings the story’s homoerotic subtext to the surface, trying it on for size.
Neil, though, is unsure of himself and the film thankfully allows him the space to explore this as his parents encourage him to not feel shame even as his private diary is made public in class. He finds himself a mentor in the older and cooler Julia (Hannah Marks), a girl from a broken family who finds herself attracted to bad boys. They form a friendship over their erotic fan-fiction, much of which is posted on a board for fanfic nerds including Denis (Michael Ian Black), who seems cool to Neil even if he’s not a fully functional adult.
Exploring cyberspace for sexual answers, Liford’s Slash is far kinder and a little quaint — while anyone can log in and see an array of healthy and unhealthy sexual imagery online, it’s rather adorable Julia and Neil choose text as a means of exploration. Neil at no times grows curious to see the actual mechanics of sex. Despite proving some visual talent, he still largely doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
The film is surprisingly good-natured, garnering organic laughs from misunderstandings between patents, teachers and kids, making adults (including editors and gatekeepers) out to be the villains in a bit of necessary youth angst. A bit rough around the edges at times, Slash lives and breathes throwing in colorful characters like Martine (Jessie Ennis), a pregnant high school student who occasionally is there for Neil when he’s abandoned by Julia. Meanwhile, she experiments with drugs and an older boy who still lives at home with his mother as Neil starts to feel things for her that he can’t quite explain and nor does the film.
Slash gets growing up lonely in geekdom despite having caring parents. Growing up online and immersed in a culture of fandom is perhaps a little too safe a space as Neil discovers when he and Julia escape the suburbs for a ComicCon in Houston, eventually finding their way to the erotic convention upstairs and across the hall. An authentic portrait with only a few false notes, Slash ought to be essential viewing for every awkward 15-year-old kid trying to figure themselves out.
Slash screened at the Montclair Film Festival and open on December 9.