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Shudder’s Slasher: Flesh & Blood is a Great Late Summer Diversion

After three years on a network called Chiller, Aaron Martin’s anthology series “Slasher” has jumped to the best home for horror out there, Shudder, the streaming service for fans of things that go bump in the night. Only two episodes have screened for press but I would change my plans to watch the next six right this minute if I could do so. Some of the performances from this ensemble are very thin, but the plotting is what matters here, and “Flesh & Blood” is just my kind of horror/mystery, a season that recalls everything from Agatha Christie to CBS’ short-lived “Harper’s Island” (a show that possibly only I watched). Actually, the best pitch for “Slasher: Flesh & Blood” may be this attention-getter: “Succession but with violent, gory murder scenes.” Who doesn’t want to watch that?

The patriarch of the Galloway family is none other than one of the Kings of Horror, David Cronenberg. The master plays Spencer Galloway, the vicious leader of a wealthy family who are assembling on his island retreat for a reunion. Of course, Spencer has a secret or two, including that he’s restarting a family tradition that was retired a quarter-century ago. Until that date, Spencer would pit his relatives against each other in a series of games and challenges—the last one had a prize of a gold bar worth almost $200k, but it also resulted in the kidnapping of one of Spencer’s twin grandsons. The prize this year? His entire fortune. The 25th anniversary of a missing boy? A return to a game that leads people to want to kill each other and now has higher stakes than ever? Let’s get ugly.

Of course, there’s also a violent, vicious serial killer roaming the grounds, ready to help these social climbers dig up their dirtiest secrets before burying their bodies in the dirt. One of the funny twists of this season is that these people might end up killing each other and beat their local serial killer to the punch. As the game gets going, the personalities come out in a manner that’s reminiscent of “Knives Out,” even if the opportunities for social commentary don’t feel quite as sharp.

Grace (Rachael Crawford) hates that anyone but she will get her hands on what she thinks she’s earned through marriage, with the possible exception of her son Jayden (Corteon Moore). Seamus (Chris Jacot) is the traditional eldest son who never got the respect from his father that he probably deserved, enraged by not being handed the family business as he should, even as his wife Christy (Paula Brancati) and adopted daughter Aphra (Nataliya Rodina) try to lower his intensity. Florence (Sabrina Grdevich) may be the grossest Galloway of all, even if how easily hate-able she can be is offset by the loss of her son a quarter-century ago, a pain she holds over the remaining twin Theo (Alex Ozerov). That’s only a small part of this giant cast, which also includes Theo’s sister O’Keeffe (Breton Lalama), the housekeeper Birgit (Patrice Goodman), her daughter Liv (Sydney Meyer), and Spencer’s doctor (Jeananne Goossen).

If "Slasher: Flesh & Blood" sounds over-crowded, it absolutely can be (although it’s likely that way in order to up to the kill count over a dozen by the end of the season, which horror fans will forgive). And some of the actors don’t exactly seem to be on the same page, playing daytime soap more than B-movie slasher—yes, it’s a fine line but there’s still a difference. There’s a tighter version of “Flesh & Blood” with a few better actors that really slays. Until then, this one is just sharp enough to slice its way into the hearts of horror fans looking for a late summer diversion.

Two episodes screened for review.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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