From what I’ve come to understand, Slasher – now in its fifth highly-rated season – is a Fantasy program not unlike FX’s American Horror Story. Each season, its creative cast and crew come together to craft a single narrative that’ll stretch through all of those episodes, allowing a bit of longer form storytelling to shine a bit of light on one particular story. Though I’m uncertain on this point, I suspect this also means that it gives the showrunner Aaron Martin the opportunity to essentially work with a revolving door of talented actors and actresses, all of them bringing their gifts to this shared universe of wider haunts. Indeed, IMDB.com reports that the show has garnered a bit of positive praise in awards circles, and that always speaks volumes, especially to a humble scribbler such as me just getting into its various wares.
This fifth season is apparently subtitled “Ripper,” and it seeks to fathom the depths of Canada’s own experiences with a ‘Jack The Ripper’ style lunatic. Again, don’t hate me if I’m incorrect on this point, but I believe all of this might very well be based on an authentic true crime experience, though I suspect some names, places, and events might be altered for artistic license. Such is the case when storytellers weave yarns, and this new season got off to a fairly successful launch with its first episode (on Shudder) titled “The Slaughterhouse.”
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the program’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Toronto’s elite are thrown into panic when a member of the upper crust is badly murdered; a killer dubbed the Widow is on the loose; Detective Kenneth Rijkers is assigned to the assignment to help the victim’s wife Regina Simcoe find closure.”
Ouch! Though that synopsis is a bit poorly worded, it still encapsulates the bare bones structure of this first episode of Slasher’s fifth season. A bloody murder is committed – Alistair Simcoe (played by Shaun Benson) – is gutted violently in the streets. Despite the fact that his past is troubled with some rather nefarious shenanigans, he’s still been part and parcel of Toronto’s high society; and they’re all understandably alarmed when it appears – at the onset – that this cold-blooded murderer might very well be targeting the upper crust.
Now, just how everyone suddenly jumps to that conclusion isn’t very clearly spelled out. Ian Carpenter and showrunner Martin’s script veers in that direction quickly, so quickly in fact that I backed up the feed twice to see if I had missed it but didn’t find it. (I occasionally struggle with some accents, so maybe it’s in there somewhere.) So, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that this conclusion is hinted at by the cultural betters of the show (which I did catch) – there are suspicions voiced fairly early on that a very specific group might be the intended victims – but I didn’t see the linkage spelled out as did the cast. (Maybe you had to be there?)
Other programs – HBO Max’s stellar Warrior comes to mind – have handled such efforts to explore race relations with greater balance, nuance, and delicacy, perhaps showing the rights and wrongs of all who lived in these bygone days of social inequity. I’ve no problem with the underlying history lesson; all I ever ask of storytellers is to (first) get history accurate and (second) be respectful of everyone. (Yes, I do realize that may be too much to ask these days.) Unlike other critics, I don’t watch television for its propaganda, though I’m willing to endure anything so long as it’s still entertaining. But Martin and his creative crew seem to be pounding on the drum with a sledgehammer in Ripper (at least, that’s my impression from this first episode), and – alas – none of it feels authentic as a result. (Nor will that drum survive long!) Hopefully, this aesthetic will evolve as the show goes on, so I’ll keep an eye on it in the subsequent episodes.
Still, first episodes are – in my opinion – the toughest to ‘get right,’ but I think there’s a lot to enjoy in “The Slaughterhouse.” There’s a solid central mystery all swirling around this character of The Widow, and it has buckets of blood and even a pound of flesh here and there to a Horror fan’s delight. The production details are quite good, though I’d suggest that many of the street scenes could use a bit more dressing as they appear all-too-obvious like studio backlots being lightly decorated to represent the Victoria Era. I’m not quite buying Gabriel Darku in the role of the lead detective: his performance is far too nonchalant for my tastes, but I’ll give him time to grow into it. Also, Clare McConnell as the murdered victim’s wife ‘Regina Simcoe’ seems far too unmoved by her husband’s recent death … might I suggest early on that it’s appearing as if she might’ve had something to do with it?
Slasher: Ripper is produced by Chiller Films, Shaftesbury Films, and Super Channel. From what I’ve read online, it appears that the program airs on Canada’s Super Channel, Netflix, Shudder, and Chiller, though which seasons actually air where remains a bit of a mystery (like the show itself!). As for the technical specifications? This is an exceedingly well-produced anthology-style program with some very good sights and sounds for those who tune in for the excitement.
Though I generally prefer my anthologies to the short-form ‘Twilight Zone’ variety, Slasher: Ripper has a good vibe. It’s a talented cast – though the early moments are all a bit too melodramatic for my tastes – and a nifty mystery surrounding the upper class. “The Slaughterhouse” mixed blood with bluster, and I’m hoping subsequent episodes develop these thinly drawn characters with a bit more clarity.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Shudder provided me with complimentary streaming access to Slasher: Ripper by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.