‘Slotherhouse’ Review: A Cuddly, Murderous Mammal Spices Up Dull Sorority Slasher

For a film ostensibly built around a pun, “Slotherhouse” is constructed many steps above the Syfy-level fare that brought 2013’s “Sharknado” to the mainstream. The budget looks higher, the camerawork slicker and there is more overall craft taken into consideration than your average low-budget exploitation premise. Yet even with a prettier package presentation, the sloth slasher is not as funny or scary as it wants to be, proving that some ideas are better in trailer-length form.

The tale begins in Panama, where a sloth massacres a crocodile before being bagged by poachers. Cut to rising college seniors in the States, chattering about Greek life and social media. Protagonist and potential Sigma Lambda Theta presidential candidate Emily (Lisa Ambalavanar) has her “save the cat” moment when she rescues a puppy, which introduces her to an exotic animal dealer (Stefan Kapicic), who sells her on the idea that a sloth would gin up a large online following.

Soon enough, Emily’s at the sorority house with her new pet, now named Alpha, which puts her on the fast track to ousting the cruel current president, Brianna (Sydney Craven). Brianna and her minions’ politicking owes a debt to 2004’s “Mean Girls,” including a big jump scare lifted straight from one of that movie’s key sequences. The overall plot — a killer is taking out co-eds one-by-one — is a retread of countless collegiate horror classics, dating back to 1974’s “Black Christmas,” and features big nods to genre touchstones like 1978’s “Halloween” and 1980’s “The Shining.”

The stereotypical characters present plenty of victims for Alpha: The eager pledges, the jaded seniors, the cartoonishly drunk house mother. But the only character that leaps off the screen is Alpha, a genuine puppet in the year 2023. The creative team blessedly relies on practical effects vs. CGI, and while the three-toed sloth doesn’t look realistic, it’s great fun to see a furry animal engaged in some crazy shit.

Beyond being bloodthirsty and, contrary to its lazy reputation, able to move speedily, Alpha’s skills are endless. She knows how to use a computer, drive a car, write in English, play dodgeball, deliver a killer burp after chugging a beer, curate an Instagram account and even roofie the drink of an unsuspecting victim. Although the puppet effects aren’t nearly as effective as the Mogwai in 1984’s “Gremlins,” Alpha’s ability to do countless human tasks points to a better, more surreal film which only peeks out in glimpses.

Unfortunately, Alpha’s behavior is more believable than much of the script’s dialogue and plot twists. The story falls flat anytime there’s not a sloth onscreen, and while it’s great to have victims lined up with some sort of personality, they feel like stock creations trotted out yet again.

Another strike against “Slotherhouse” is that the kills are underwhelming, with the camera cutting away as claws scratch and blood spurts. The PG-13 rating is reminiscent of the similarly toothless “M3GAN” from earlier this year, which is unfortunate, especially given one quick kill montage that races through fun scenarios without time to breathe or squirm.

Outside of a few performances ranging from “cardboard” to “grating,” the cast largely understands this assignment, bringing The CW-level gravitas to scenes where they wrestle a sloth puppet.

Director Matthew Goodhue keeps the operation together, as the look of “Slotherhouse” is surprisingly mature, hiding any of the typical fraying edges that come with a low budget creature feature. That said, Sam Ewing’s distracting score is very busy, constantly underlining moments of comedy, innocence, wonder, romance and horror as deliberately as possible.

As the credits roll, this trifle of a movie fully settles and questions come quickly: Why does Alpha murder some characters at certain times but not others, despite plenty of opportunity? How does no one find out about several of the murders for weeks? Why would someone make a sloth picture if they change everything about the animal to fit what the script needs?

Forget it, Jake. It’s “Slotherhouse.”

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