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FrightFest ’20 Review: “AQUASLASH” treads water too long before sliding into gleeful depravity

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 | Review

By SEAN MCGEADY

Starring Nicolas Fontaine, Brittany Drisdelle, Madeline Harvey
Directed by Renaud Gauthier
Written by Renaud Gauthier, Philip Kalin
Red Hound Films

If nothing else, AQUASLASH should be admired for the purity of its concept, which comes down, perhaps too neatly, to a single good idea: what if some gobshite teens were fed into a weaponised water slide like meat through a mincer? The answer is every bit as savage as you’d expect. But it’ll take you most of the movie’s runtime to get to it.

Shot at Quebec’s Super Aqua Club water park, writer-director Renaud Gauthier’s slip-and-slide slasher – which had its UK premiere at this year’s virtual FrightFest – begins with a promising prologue, as two teens are butchered mid-coitus atop a water slide. It’ll be too long before anybody else gets dismembered. 

We pick up as the Valley Hills High class of ’18 descend on the Wet Valley Water Park for a weekend of chaos, chlorine and coke-addled adultery. The film wastes no time setting up its many (many) relationships: moody band-leader Josh (Nicolas Fontaine) has designs on his former flame Kimberley (Lanisa Dawn), who works at the park but is betrothed to her irritable colleague Tommy (Paul Zinno); their boss, sleazy park owner Paul (Nick Walker), is low-key doing the dirty with flame-haired horndog and high-school queen bee Alice (Madeline Harvey); and his wife Priscilla (Brittany Drisdelle), a hot-to-trot cougar who, legend has it, likes to give aspiring student casanovas a good time, may also be rubbing more than elbows with Josh’s dad Michael (Howard Rosenstein). There’s a broad cast of supporting characters too. With the boys ready to brawl and the girls’ skimpy bathing suits barely concealed by their billowing graduation gowns, it seems like everyone either wants to fuck each other or fuck each other up.

If Psycho’s shower scene is effective for what you don’t see, Aquaslash’s crowning gory is effective for what you do

And that’s the problem: AQUASLASH dedicates too much time to its petty squabbling, illicit affairs and shady real-estate deals, and not enough time to coming good on its tantalising premise. The acting is relatively solid across the board, with Harvey in particular bringing a well-calculated energy that helps keep the film afloat. But with so many characters to keep track of, most of whom are cookie-cutter student shitbags who inspire little sympathy, it can be tough to tell who’s who – and to care. 

The famously horny high-school and slasher genres make fine bedfellows. The former’s fixation with sex and rites of passage such as attending parties, getting shitfaced and snorting lines – all abundant in AQUASLASH – dovetail perfectly with the latter’s puritanical attitude to such vices, which render them punishable by death. 

But for all AQUASLASH’s nods to FRIDAY THE 13TH and clear reverence for the genre’s hallmarks, it doesn’t operate much like a slasher – and not to its merit. Though the flick unfolds on the 35-year anniversary of some suspicious deaths, it lacks the core mysteries, crucial stalk-and-stab sequences and steadily escalating body count that make slashers so fun to watch. 

Nor does AQUASLASH care for the soul-searching inherent to high-school movies. The blurred boundaries between these genres make for fertile ground when it comes to the exploration of fear, of changing minds and bodies, of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and of leaving home and one day finding another elsewhere. But Gauthier is more interested in neon paint and bare breasts than softly-softly introspection. 

That wouldn’t be a slight were the tone more assured. But AQUASLASH can’t seem to decide whether it wants to go all in on 1980s-style schlock or whether it’s a sincere contemporary horror, with real characters and real drama. There’s not quite enough grisly innards and skin-flick sensationalism for the former, and the quality of the drama isn’t high enough for the latter. The film may’ve been more interesting had it dealt in earnest post-grad angst rather than who’s-stiffing-who-and-why. As it is, AQUASLASH seems unwilling to take the plunge in either direction.

By the time the gratuitously gruesome ending rolls around though, you won’t care about such foibles. One of the movie’s many suspects has sabotaged the annual Sea Snake race by inserting saw blades through one of its three identical slides to create a deadly cross section. In an exquisite touch, the teens must race down in teams of three too – triple the victims, triple the viscera.

If PSYCHO’s iconic shower scene is effective for what you don’t see, then AQUASLASH’s crowning gory is effective for what you do. As the carefree teens go gliding towards their own dissection, you might expect the film to cut away to their severed limbs being flung from the lip of the slide – and it does, eventually. But not until you’ve seen their bodies slam into those blades and come apart like diced pork. It’s an inventive sequence, made all the sweeter thanks to the FX team’s enormously satisfying physical-effects work and the picture’s commitment to flaunting it; body after body piles into the rigged slide, the scene justifiably milked for all its worth.

Gob-smacking climax aside, AQUASLASH’s amateur dramatics leave it looking a little like an extended episode of RIVERDALE whose ending was directed by Eli Roth. Rest assured, though, at a modest 70-minutes long, this hack-and-splash flick is worth the ride for its finale alone.

 

Sean McGeady
Sean McGeady is a London-based writer and editor with an academic interest in horror and the paradox of its appeal, as well as a profound love of trash and a fondness for ghouls. You can find his genre-related bylines at Bloody Disgusting, Daily Dead, Diabolique, The Quietus, Shelf Heroes, and others.