One of the most sensational horror cinema experiences I have had in many months was watching the seventies-set shocker Slut at the Scream Queen Filmfest Tokyo tour event in Nagoya, Japan, in February. What amazed me even more is that this short film is a debut for its writer/director, Chloe Okuno, because it has the air of a seasoned auteur behind it. Some horror shorts try to pull off the feel of a full-length film in a shorter amount of time to varying degrees of success, but Slut indeed feels like a feature-length story in a mere 18.5 minutes that seem to fly by.
Socially awkward Maddy (Molly McIntyre) is dressed in frumpy clothes at her small-town roller rink and draws snickers and giggles from the other teenagers there. Jolee (Kasia Pilewicz) is her openly flirtatious and provocatively clothed opposite. After tripping on her own feet, Maddy is consoled by a somewhat older man (James Gallo) who is a stranger in town. He asks Maddy if he can tell her a secret: He thinks she is better than Jolee because Maddy is a nice girl.
As Maddy leaves the rink, she sees the stranger smoking. She opens her mouth to speak to him but suddenly Jolee shows up and she and the man leave together. Disappointed, Maddy heads home.
It’s all for the best for Maddy – for the time being, at least – because it turns out that the stranger is a sociopath who detests easy marks. While he takes his hatred out on Jolee, Maddy begins the first stage of reinventing herself as a girl who walks on the wild side – a move that will garner favor with a local boy but, at the same time, draw the ire of the dangerous stranger.
Writer/director Chloe Okuno and her crew hit an absolute grand slam with Slut, which is an AFI thesis film produced by Lisa Gollobin. The story starts out with familiar elements including overtones of Little Red Riding Hood, The Ugly Duckling, and classic psycho-on-the-road genre film fare, but heads to unexpected places. The short has a bold originality all its own. Its moments of tension are palpable and it has a superb undercurrent of wicked humor running through it. Slut’s climactic set piece left me practically breathless as those two elements jelled flawlessly. Okuno has a keen feel for tension and a marvelous eye for framing.
The lead performances from Molly McIntyre and James Gallo are absolutely top notch. The character of Maddy goes through distinct personality changes and McIntyre shines in them all. Gallo is terrific as the charming stranger with a dark side. The rest of the cast acquits itself well, too, including Kasia Pilewicz as Jolee and Cody Beverstock as Brian, a local boy who is more than willing to help Maddy shed her good-girl reputation.
The film’s 1970s aesthetic captures the era splendidly, with hair, makeup, and sets that look authentic without overdoing things. Production designer Yihong Ding and everyone involved with putting together the set for the house that Maddy shares with her grandmother (Sally Kirkland) – with its cracked floorboards, peeling wallpaper, and period furniture – outdid themselves.
Cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen captures the events with considerable skill, and on good old film stock, to boot. Michael Block’s editing is sterling, as well. Darren Morze’s score has some wonderful moments including the recurring music during some especially tense scenes. There’s also a nifty musical transition from Audie Henry’s country songs to some distorted guitar rock riffage when Maddy changes her style.
It’s hard for me to find fault with Slut (slutthefilm.com) that isn’t just the most minor of quibbling. When a horror film with this much verve, energy, and fun rolls around, it is a rare thing indeed and something to be celebrated. I don’t hand out perfect scores lightly; Chloe Okuno’s debut unequivocally deserves the highest rating I can give it. I predict big things for all of the talent involved with Slut and urge horror movie fans to seek it out.
Slut: (5 / 5)