Elza Kephart writes and directs horror and fantasy films. Her latest feature, the horror film Slaxx, is out on VOD, Digital HD and DVD on September 7, 2021 through RLJE Films. Born and raised in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), she holds a BFA from Emerson College (Boston) and the Canadian Film Center’s Director’s Lab. At 24, she wrote and directed her first feature, Graveyard Alive – A Zombie Nurse in Love. It played in over 20 international film festivals including Fantasia, Fantasporto and Sitges, winning the Kodak Cinematography Award at the Slamdance Film Festival. It was distributed on TMN, on DVD by Maple Pictures, and in theaters. Her second feature film, Go in the Wilderness, premiered at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, played in various international film festivals, and is being distributed on various platforms, including itunes. Slaxx had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival and its International Premiere at the Sitges International Film Festival in 2020. She is one of the co-founders of the Montreal chapter of Film Fatales, and one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion Québec. (Photo by Marlène Gélineau Payette.)
I was very young when I realized there was something wrong with our world. I remember being around 10 or 11 when the Cabbage Patch Kids craze started (it was the ’80s!). I remember having a love-hate relationship with the Kids – everyone had one, so of course I wanted one, yet I could feel that there was something wrong about the fact that “everyone wanted one,” without questioning why. I didn’t want to be left out, but I didn’t want to cave under social pressure – what was a young girl to do? In the end, my folks got me a CPK for my birthday. Technically, I hadn’t bought it, but I still remember the feeling of happiness mingled with disgust. Now I was “just like everyone,” but I had also betrayed my true feelings, that we were being made to think we all needed these ugly dolls.
It really started me thinking about how corporations “brainwash” us to consume. My 11-year-old mind didn’t have such clearly worded concepts, but it was a strong feeling. This would follow suit with dieting; I was 12 and all the girls in my class were on a “diet” (12!!!). I remember how I loved watching Fashion Television, a Canadian fashion show. I remember seeing the models’ “perfect” bodies, and looking at my own 12-year-old body! and thinking I needed to lose weight (WTF!!!). I remember eating celery and trying to diet and feeling miserable. Then, one day, I realized this was bullshit, and stopped. I don’t remember what prompted me to stop, but it was clear. My body was my body, and I accepted it as it was. I remember seeing a daytime talk show where Leeza Gibbons complimented a guest on not having an ounce of cellulite. I remember thinking, “Why praise this on television? She was probably born that way and there’s nothing most of us can do about it.”
Since then, I have seen friends, female and male, struggle with weight, with dieting, with body image, and have been so angry at our society for perpetuating this rubbish. Same with hair dyeing! I dyed my hair with various materials since I was 14, hating my “dishwater blonde” hair, as my mother called it. Then one day, I read a short essay called “Beauty and Misogyny,” which decried most beauty practices, including hair dyeing. It said that women are never “good enough,” our hair can always be “improved,” even if we don’t have – gasp – grey in it! I henceforth stopped dyeing my hair – ironically, just as I started getting grey.
So my questioning of our culture’s brainwashing to consume and always be dissatisfied with our appearance started quite early, and has never stopped. This has been a huge motor for my new film Slaxx, a very pointed critique of fast fashion, mass consumption and corporate brainwashing power. It tells the tale of Libby, a young and idealistic salesclerk who joins the “Canadian Cotton Clothiers” during their night-time collection turnaround, only to realize a killer is at work, bumping off sales people one by one. [Spoiler Alert] What she discovers is that the killer is none other than a pair of jeans, possessed by the spirit of a dead child labourer, killed in an accident while picking cotton for the CCC, hellbent on revenge. While the film doesn’t concentrate on the theme of beauty ideals, I have infused it in there as well – nothing escapes Slaxx’s vicious and deadly critique! The film was my way to take to court all these nefarious practices, promoted by huge corporations who care about nothing but their bottom line, at the cost of people’s lives, the environment and our mental well-being.
As Slaxx’s pre-production was getting underway, in the fall of 2018, I realized, after the catastrophic IPCC report and reading the United Nations Secretary General’s declaration, the absolute climate and ecological emergency we were in; the declaration predicted crop failure, social unrest, and the potential extinction of civilization. The world, as I knew it, came to crashing halt. Everything I had envisaged in my future was upended. I joined an activist group and came to realize, through my involvement, how capitalism and corporations were directly responsible for the climate and ecological crisis. All of a sudden, it all made sense: My lifelong enemy, the “evil corporation,” was truly being pointed out as the movie villain it was, responsible for our destruction, all for a quick buck.
This made me even more furious, and I have since decided to use my art to talk about the climate crisis, extraction of natural resources beyond Earth’s capacity (through mining, logging, fishing, etc.), and how we must reorient our attitude towards Mother Earth, our responsibility to her and every living creature on earth. One of my upcoming projects, Night of the Pendulum, a supernatural limited series, reimagines the extractivist mining industry through a mythological lens, and follows one character’s journey from unconsciousness to consciousness, and coming to realize he must sacrifice himself for the good of all. Another project, an action-satire TV show, Global Terror Inc., revolves around teenaged activists who take their survival to the next level and start terrorizing the fossil fuel elite. The feature I hope to direct next, Chair Obscure, plays with the notion of “possession” by a spirit entity and “possessions,” as in things we own. The main character possesses someone to survive, but ironically ends up rejecting her possessions, to get a second, more honest crack at life.
I have also joined the Directors Guild of Canada’s Sustainability and Climate Action Committee, where we are hard at work implementing changes in our industry, as well as SCALE, an arts community action group spearheaded by Seth Klein, brother of Naomi. Through this group, I urge other art-makers to read a personal declaration on the Climate and Ecological Emergency before their performances or presentations of their work, to ensure that people understand that “business as usual” is no longer valid if we are to survive.
For those who want to find out more about what they can do, please visit:
Featured image by Lisa Barrett.