Slasher S4E1/2 Reviews: Thicker Than Water/The Sins of the Father

by thethreepennyguignol

It is time, my friends, to take a slash.

No, not that kind. I’m talking about Slasher, TV’s second-best (only to this) horror show that has just returned for a fourth season on Shudder. Slasher is one of those shows which has a special place in my heart, because it feels so very much like mine: it’s not exactly well-known outside of the Great Horror Conglomerate, and that recurring cast and over-arching genre theme gives it an insular, almost cosy little sensation. Well, as cosy as a show in which someone gets pried open like a dissected frog can be, anyway.

Slasher occupies a very strange place in pop culture – horror has had a hard time breaking into the mainstream at the best of times, and so many shows and movies use that niche-ness to get away with the nastiest shit humanly possible. Not that I am entirely averse to that – no self-proclaimed Rob Zombie fan could be – but Slasher seems more interested in using the fact that barely anyone is paying attention to it to tell somewhat progressive stories. Every season has featured prominent LGBTQ characters, usually multiple; season two featured one of the most respectful and empathetic male rape plots I’ve ever seen on TV, and season three was the first show I watched with a hijabi lead. Beyond my bleeding-heart lefty bullshit, Slasher frequently tells genuinely unique, interesting stories, and it feels like it gets away with that trope-defying attitude because barely anyone is paying attention to it.

Which is why I’m so excited about season four, subtitled Flesh and Blood. Pitched as a sort of Succession-via-Saw premise, it follows the expansive and complicated (and exceptionally wealthy) Calloway family, headed by Spender (David Croenenburg, giving us full “Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business” realness) as Spender ends his life and leaves his remaining kin to fight it out over the rights to his enormous fortune – while a masked killer stalks the secluded island that houses the family estate, and takes out those unlucky enough to cross them.

Like so many anthology shows, one of the best things about these opening episodes is a chance to re-acquaint ourselves with the recurring cast and check out where they’ve landed this time around. There aren’t a huge amount of returning actors from previous seasons, but My Secret Favourite Paula Brancati and Less Secret Favourite Christopher Jacot are prominently featured as Christy and Seamus, a married couple navigating life after adopting their daughter from abroad; Sabrina Grdevich also makes a return from season one as the brilliantly nightmarish art school mother Florence. But for the most part, we’ve got a new cast here, and a big one to boot.

There’s a huge amount of family drama to juggle in these first couple of episodes; we’ve got to introduce everyone and set up the major conflicts between characters for this season, and it’s clear that we’re really only scratching the surface of the incredibly complicated knot that this family is wrapped into. I think the main challenge this season is going to be balancing these interconnected and overlapping alliances and rivalries into something coherent, and not letting them get out of hand to the point of incoherence – plus, you know, remembering that we’re here for the slashin’ as much as the chattin’.

The focus of these two episodes (beyond watching David Croenenberg’s heart plop out of his chest like so much wet ham because if you’re going to kill the king of body horror in your show, it better be good) is the killer instinct. Spencer sets up a game for his family prior to his assisted suicide – last player standing, after a series of trials, gets his whole fortune and business empire. Throw in the dramatic return of a long-lost kidnapped brother, a masked Plague Doctor with a big knife on the loose, and the reveal that the recently-returned-from-combat daughter of one of the help is also in contention for the throne, and it’s all about that ability to do the very worst to survive the very best.

This plays out mostly via Seamus and Jayden (Corteon Moore) Galloway, half-siblings by their father’s first and second wives. Once close but driven apart by the ruthless machinations of their father, Seamus – the new father, the husband, the family man – tricks Jayden into serious injury and elimination from the game to ensure his place in his father’s legacy. This is a game that rewards cruelty and callousness, in the name of Spencer’s legacy. So much of horror as a genre is built around a very specific kind of morality, so to set up something like this in the first episode – brutalizing to win and to survive, even outside of the actual bird-nosed Slasher of this season – is really interesting to me, and I’m looking forward to see how it goes. I’m a really big fan of Christopher Jacot, and this opening centres him in a big way, which is filling me with much confidence for where his plot is going to take him the rest of this season. Slasher, for all its genre silliness, is a show with great performances where it chooses to highlight them.

With a few traditionally brutal kills and a rich, open-ended set-up, Flesh and Blood is a delightful start to horror’s most fabulously silly show. We’re stuck on a fucking island again, but this time, at least I’m not going to have to wait twenty-four episodes for them to open a damn box – we’re off to a fast-paced start, and I’m already interested to see where this amoral season is going to end up.

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