Despite rocking a killer title and being so deeply bathed in 80s slasher-isms that it might nearly drown, Aquaslash is the perfect example of a horror that just can’t seem to find its groove. Because through all its embracing of those classic summer teen movie tropes, and the hilariously outdated sexual politics that come with them (even American Pie fans might think this one’s a bit much), what really sinks Renaud Gauthier’s Canadian genre romp in the end is its payoff, or lack there of.
Taking more than just a leaf from the book of Friday the 13th and its fellow teen-focussed horrors of the early 80s, Aquaslash finds a graduating high school class assuming control of a nearby waterpark, for a no-holds-barred Spring Break-style boozefest. The teachers deal drugs, the jocks and greasy rockers battle it out over who’s more macho, and every girl in sight of a camera bops around in a tiny bikini and for some reason, washes cars. It’s almost like those 39 long years since Harvey Weinstein’s The Burning never happened after all.
But to be fair to writer/director Gauthier and his team, tongue does seem planted firmly in cheek for the hefty majority of this one. The slapstick manliness and lingering arse-shots are so punch-in-the-face obvious that they’re clearly there for knowing laughs, and the slasher crowd’s appetite for this old-school brand of blood and boobtastic action remains strong even four decades on from where it first started.
The real problem with Aquaslash isn’t that its characters are disposable bimbos that spend the lions share of the film flashing their naughty bits at each other; it’s that even for the die-hard genre fans that like and deliberately tune in for this kind of thing, it massively oversells and underprovides.
Comedy or not, both the literal ‘slash’ of the film’s title and its 40 minute preamble all seem to be building towards a classic, Jason-esque killing spree that just simply doesn’t happen. Instead Gauthier’s script takes a single idea for an inventive kill, and tries to stretch it out over the film’s entire final third, tossing every character headfirst into it no matter how contradictory or just plain nonsensical that might be.
By the film’s end, not only are none of the characters’ relationships to each other particularly clear (who’s having sex with who again?) but the characters themselves stop even acting like real human beings altogether, choosing to deliberately (and in some cases, enthusiastically) leap into a situation with only one possible outcome: their own bloody death.
Slasher movies work because there’s those rubbing elements of catharsis and tension; characters you want to see get offed and characters you don’t. Those you scream at the screen in a blind attempt to help, and those you sit and watch gleefully as they’re loudly dismembered. Even if every face on the board fell into the latter camp, there’d still be a level of spectacle on the cards. But for Aquaslash, there’s neither; you don’t love or hate anybody, and even if you did, the bloodletting of the finale is so weirdly scrambled and senseless, that it wouldn’t have offered up even so much as a lick of satisfaction anyway.
Aquaslash certainly looks the part, and for a great deal of its opening, it feels like it’s set to deliver on an outdated, but still fairly functional set-up. What it ends up as though is a random frenzy of deaths, shot in such a way that’s not only wildly uninteresting to watch, but also deeply, deeply confusing to try and comprehend. Even for fans of trashy genre fare, this is a hard pass.
Aquaslash was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest’s Digital Edition 2020.