In Slash, Neil’s (Michael Johnston) secret passion about writing erotic fan-fiction comes to light when one of his classmates steals his notebook and proceeds to pass it around all over class. While most make him feel like even more of an outcast, his writing catches the attention of fellow outcast Julia (Hannah Marks). She also writes erotic fan fiction and goes even further by publishing it online. With her friendship Neil is introduced to a whole new world where he'll discover truths about his sexuality, and the value of embracing his passion without concern about what others might think.
This film is fascinating and strange. Writer/director Clay Liford has created a film that beautifully captures the complexity of being a teenager. At moments it is funny and sweet, then infuriating, then emotionally draining but ultimately quite fulfilling. It’s impressive to see how the film maneuvers through such different sentiments while retaining a palpable sense of honesty. It’s rare nowadays to see vulnerability depicted so effortlessly in film, and I think a lot of the film's inherited strength is also thanks to the performances from the two leads.
Neil is a loner, he is shy, filled with doubt and he embodies people we either know or have been ourselves. This is character who doesn’t know who he really is, he places so much emphasis on what others think that he underestimates himself. His continual assumptions on how people will react if he allows them in has caused him to locked himself in a shell, especially because in his case his passion revolves around writing erotic fan fiction. While he enjoys writing, he sees his proclivities as something to be ashamed of. By accident when his secret is revealed he encounters something unexpected: companionship. He is not alone, since Julia also enjoys writing erotic fan fiction. Their friendship leads them both down a path of self-discovery that wouldn’t be ascertainable alone.
Here lies the beauty of Slash. It’s the revelation that there are unmovable limitations within a vacuum, and that it is only when we allow ourselves to open up and be vulnerable with others that we can better understand who we are. There is power here and to witness both Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks embody this journey enhances the affective nature of this revelation. Johnston performance is dripping in vulnerability that disarms you. There is such an overwhelming sincerity that even when the character drifts into dangerous and uncomfortable territory, you want to be along for the ride. What’s even more impressive is how Johnston is capable of instilling a complexity into the character, a sense of unpredictability that makes Neil feel like a genuine human being.
Hannah Marks’ Julia, on the other hand, at first seems to embody the type of person Neil wishes he could be. She’s an outcast with unpopular friends and with a passion for erotic fan fiction that brings her zero shame. There’s confidence and assertiveness, but as the film progresses Neil slowly discovers that most of these qualities are part of a facade. The cracks start to show and we see that just like Neil, Julia has also encased herself inside a shell desperately hiding her growing self-doubt and lack of self-worth. Hannah Marks brilliantly captures these complexities with tremendous subtlety. Her face reveals the struggle of maintaining a facade and the urgency of wanting to let her inner-self truly out, so that perhaps she can finally find some semblance of acceptance.
Slash is a rare gem of a film. While it is not the first to examine the turmoils of the teenage years, I do feel it’s approach is distinctive and affective. The film manages to encompass so many things at once without ever feeling forced, fake or overbearing. As I said before, the emotion depicted is so sincere and drenched in vulnerability that you are captivated almost instantly. It is compelling and a great showcase for writer/director Clay Liford, Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks. Together they’ve created a story of self-discovery that feels fresh and in tune with how teenagers really are. Its inherit awkwardness yields a lot funny moments, which I did not touch too much on but you should know the film is very funny. Some of Neil's writing get the low-budget "porn" dramatization and they are hilarious. Beyond that though, Slash’s palpable emotional honesty facilitates in delivering a message of companionship and self-acceptance that is important. This film provides a very memorable experience and it is film you should definitely seek out.