FrightFest VOD film review: Aquaslash
Anton Bitel | On 30, Aug 2020
Director: Renaud Gauthier
Cast: Nicolas Fontaine, Brittany Drisdelle, Lanisa Dawn, Nick Walker, Madelline Harvey, Paul Zinno, Chip Chupka
Watch Aquaslash online in the UK: FrightFest 2020
Aquaslash streams as part of FrighFest 2020 at 9.30pm on Sunday 30th August. For the full festival line-up and online ticket information, click here
Anyone who grew up in Australia – where the waterslide culture is strong – will have heard, and possibly been frightened by, the urban myth about delinquents sticking razor blades to the slide’s interior walls, and then watching the ensuing bloody mayhem. With Aquaslash, writer/director Renaud Gauthier builds an entire film around this premise, although he makes the blades much bigger – indeed, we see a figure in giallo-style black gloves forging and whetting them during the opening credits.
Eventually these two huge blades will be covertly fitted to form a deadly ‘X’ near the end of one of three slides at the Wet Valley water park. This creaky, ageing amusement park was expressly founded in the “Summer of 84”, which also happens to be the title of a 2018 horror film – made by Gauthier’s fellow Canadians François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell – that similarly looked back to the era of Reagan, while also bringing a similarly nasty edge to its own deep-seated nostalgia.
Here, Gauthier gathers an ensemble of young, scantily clad co-eds for what they imagine will be a weekend of hedonism marking their graduation from high school and their passage into the adult world – but for what we already know will be a wild, irreversible ride downwards, cutting at least some of them off in their prime.
It may be present day, but in partying at the park, these characters are maintaining a high school tradition that dates back to 1988, and their three-piece band The Blades – whose singer Josh (Nicolas Fontaine) is as close to a protagonist as this film gets – restricts its playlist to 1980s covers. In another scene a young boy finds a Walkman buried in the sand, old but still working, and spends the rest of the film listening to a redundant cassette tape with a retro set of tracks. Likewise, the film’s own score – by Bruce Cameron. Gauthier and Mortadelle – is a synth-heavy evocation of that era’s cinematic sensibilities. All exposed flesh and hormones, these kids are frolicking in a faded 1980s adventureland whose very name – Wet Valley – is suggestive of the horny pleasures that they seek, but they do not realise that they are also barrelling headlong into the decade of the classic slasher, where sex typically leads to death.
The process of water-sliding involves joining a queue for the long ascent of the stairs, then nervous anticipation that grows as the upper platform gets closer (and the screams of others get louder), and finally the anxiety and exhilaration of the slippery plunge itself – which lasts less than a minute. Aquaslash comes with a similar structure – for while we know from early on exactly the deadly downward spiral towards which everything is headed, Gauthier delays that end for as long as possible, building and building the tension over the film’s relatively short 71-minute duration, and then letting gravity take its inevitable toll in a horrifying climax. Leading up to that moment, the characters’ conversations are peppered with dramatically ironic indices of the coming carnage, as phrases like “a weekend to die for”, “keep your head on straight” and talk of rivals being “slaughtered” and “dead in the fucking water” all paint their own graphic picture of what is in store. Occasional murder set-pieces also give us an idea that somebody is operating with malicious intent in the water park’s shadows.
Like many a slasher, Aquaslash is also a whodunnit, with plenty of red herrings and garden-path backstories distracting the viewer from a solution so pleasingly calculated and calibrated, and so carefully concealed. that it will best be fully appreciated on a second ride of the slide. As with his earlier Discopathe (2013), Gauthier plays his closely studied pastiches with a straight face, letting the inherent absurdities of his scenario, and of his chosen subgenre, speak for themselves. You will laugh and you will scream – but mostly you will laugh – as these adolescents, with their whole futures ahead of them, are pushed to and through the edge, falling victim to the very decade that they celebrate, in an intergenerational struggle for one kind of satisfaction or another.