Slay Belles is chattier than I expected. Not a bother in just that fact alone mind you (I can certainly get down with a clever full body script), but it's hurt a bit by the fact that, well, it's not. A lot of the banter found here is made up mostly of hot air—awkward conversation, nonsensical musings, and cringe one-liners. The writing definitely wants to be funny, maybe even clever, but it definitely has trouble landing most of the time. The film also has a tendency to stand around and exposit. Given its fantastical premise, the legacy of it's more mystical cast, and the fact that we came for monster shredding action, it really wasn't needed. Further, I was totally pulled out the holiday horror spirit for the first half of Slay Belles thanks to its unfortunate choice of shooting local and time of day (the ladder of which is thankfully rectified once the shit hits the fan). Funny enough, in a moment of self-awareness, one character (Dahlia), even remarks how not-so-Christmas-like Santa Land actually is.
It's Christmas Eve, and three cosplaying women come across the malevolent Christmas demon Krampus. The girls must team up with Santa Claus himself to battle the creature and save the world.
I suppose I'm being harsh, but this is after all a film about colorful cosplayers joining up with a drunken slop-of-a-Santa (Barry Bostwick) in order to defeat THE evil force of Christmas itself, Krampus. This is also a Christmas holiday horror film (at least, that's what's being sold anyway) and that is assuredly where Slay Belles strengths lie, when it finally gets around to it that is.
Once the sinister looking anti-claus makes an appearance, Slay Belles picks up considerably. Carnage is plentiful, and whichever characters are left alive by this point in the film, do a decent job playing off one another while still keeping the playful energy high. Creature makeup and effects are convincingly real and phenomenally sinister giving Krampus a bullish more minotaur-like styling to his appearance. Santa Claus speaks on the hellish destination of his nemesis' dark journey, and it makes perfect sense; Krampus looks like an absolute demon. And while there's no question that outside the north and south pole icons, the films three female leads are given the lion's share of the spotlight, I'm gonna have to give the absolute best moments of Slay Belles to Diane Salinger. Her sass and exuberance work wonderfully, bringing to life a character that is as much confident as she is over-the-top diabolical. Without giving anything away, there’s an exchange she has with Bostwick’s Santa towards the tail-end of the film that had me absolutely cheering; I wish hers was a more prominent role, but at least whatever screen time she did have, left a lasting impression. Oh, and I’d be remiss not to at least mention what a welcome surprise Hannah Wagner (a.k.a. YouTube personality Miss Hannah Minx) was from a performance stand point. She almost seemed to channel Sheri Moon Zombie in her bubbly act; the moments of provocation and spitfire aggression further adding to that embodiment. I really like it.
The rest of the cast serve their purpose, but don't do enough to stand out a lot against those already mentioned. A little disappointing given past bodies of work, but it is what it is. Ultimately enough is done with Slay Belles that makes it a not-so-bad watch for when you're needing to satisfy that holiday horror sweet-tooth, and aren't looking to expend much in the way of brain power. It's also a decent directorial debut for Dan Walker. I just hope that following this, he shows less restraint, more balls, and further indulges his clear aptitude for the absurd!
Slay Belles is out on VOD this Tuesday the 4th