In the first scene of Austin Vesely’s Slice, slacker pizza delivery boy Sean (played with appropriate apathy by the director himself) drives down darkened city streets, screamo music blaring from his car stereo, en route to deliver a pizza. Decked out in apparel from the pizza parlor where he works (Perfect Pizza Base), Sean arrives and fumbles his way up the porch steps, pizza in tow, headphones still blaring. It seems unremarkable enough—until an unseen assailant slits Sean’s throat from behind. A fountain of blood splatters across the pizza boxes, and Sean crumples to the ground.
The opening sequence recalls a slasher flick from a bygone era, though it’s not reminiscent of any one movie in particular. The first scene, and indeed the whole film, acts more like a pastiche of a genre; perhaps the closest 2018-appropriate analogue would be Netflix’s Stranger Things, which pays homage to ’80s horror films. But where Stranger Things explores new, uncharted limits of the genre, Slice takes more a laid-back, tongue-in-cheek approach to the conflicts of interest that arise when small-townsfolk fight over a portal to another dimension.
In a fictional television ad cleverly placed after the title sequence, it’s revealed that Slice takes place in the small town of Kingfisher. It’s a humdrum town—except for the fact that there’s an entire undead population in it. The ad, which promotes a reelection bid by incumbent Kingfisher Mayor Tracy, explains that a bulldozed mass grave on the site of a former asylum is responsible for the town’s 40,000 undead souls. Mayor Tracy had the presence of mind to designate an entire section of the municipality for ghosts only (a neighborhood called Ghost Town), and surprisingly, humans and spirits seem to exist in relative harmony.
Until they don’t. Galvanized by the murder of her former lover Sean, a Perfect Pizza Base employee named Astrid (Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz) sets out to solve the mystery of his murder, and encounters a coven of deadly witches with a secret agenda, an angsty werewolf with a heart of gold (played by Chance the Rapper), a corrupt mayor (Chris Parnell) with a penchant for painting nude women, and an intrepid young journalist who’s determined to prove her worth to her editor at the Kingfisher Chronicle.
Slice is best viewed as a campy ode to bygone B-movies—when the thrills were cheap and there was plenty of fake blood to go around—not a daring new entry into the genre. While darkly funny in many moments, the film is never quite frightening, mostly because the terrors that might traditionally haunt these characters (undead spirits, werewolves, et. al.) are already deeply ingrained in Kingfisher’s culture. While the ghosts have their own neighborhood, they’re allowed to wander around and haunt people whenever they like, and seem more like a morose minority than an actual threat to the population.
After two more pizza delivery boys are murdered, journalist Sadie Sheridan (Rae Gray) does some hardcore investigative reporting (three Google searches) and realizes that there’s something rotten at Perfect Pizza Base. A nearly-identical situation led to the murders of employees at Yummy Yummy Chinese, a now-shuttered restaurant that once stood on the same site as the pizza joint. With little support from her photographer and coworker Jackson (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery), Sadie is left to find disgraced werewolf Dax, a former Yummy Yummy employee who was scapegoated and run out of town after the murders, who seems to hold a vital clue.
Both Astrid and Sadie separately discover that Perfect Pizza Base is located on the site of the old asylum, which conveniently doubles as a portal to hell. A ferocious throwdown ensues for control of the portal, with the coven of witches battling Chance’s werewolf Dax and a now-undead Astrid. In the end, the good guys—that is, a lone werewolf and some ghosts—prevail, destroying the witches and Perfect Pizza Base in the process.
Slice, much like the pizza parlor where most of the action is set, doesn’t try too hard to test boundaries. And much like a pizza pie, the film lovingly combines a variety of ingredients—cheeky references to vintage horror films, a zany cast of characters, and biting dialogue—to make one cheesy, delicious end product.
Slice is now streaming on video-on-demand platforms.