NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Director Matthew Goodhue says his horror-comedy Slotherhouse is intended to be an entertaining, over-the-top parable about the dangers of social media obsession and wild animal poaching.
In theaters Wednesday, the movie follows Emily Young (Lisa Ambalavanar), a college senior who adopts an adorable, but illegally obtained, sentient sloth named Alpha in the hopes of achieving the level of popularity she needs to be voted president of her chapter of Sigma Lambda Theta.
Before long, Emily's rival sorority sisters are turning up dead all over campus, leading her to a blood-soaked showdown with Alpha, perhaps cinema's most unlikely serial killer to date.
The film's cast includes Sydney Craven, Olivia Rouyre, Bianca Beckles-Rose, Andrew Horton, Sutter Nolan, Grace Patterson, Milica Vrzić, Annamaria Serda, Rudi Rok, Tiff Stevenson, Stefan Kapičić and Kelly Lynn Reiter.
"It hits a lot of the horror tropes that I was familiar with," Goodhue told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"The movie also deals with the obsession with social media, the desire to be liked, the desire to be accepted by everyone and that's something that I think is super apparent in today's world, especially younger people."
Emily is more concerned with the carefully curated life she presents to people via social media than she is with reality.
"She's only focused on how many 'likes' she has or how many messages she's getting," Goodhue said.
The film imparts a strong message about how some people treat wild animals as props in their online posts, too.
"I knew [sloths] were sort of an online phenomenon and I saw the memes and the references," the director said.
"When I first learned about the project, I also learned people were poaching these things and selling them for cheap."
This is not because the buyers love sloths and want to take care of them, he added.
It's because, like Emily, they want to drive traffic to their social media accounts by posting photos of them with the adorable critters.
"It might be a cute picture, but it's like: 'Do you have any idea what you're doing -- the dangers you're putting this creature in?'" Goodhue asked rhetorically.
"It's a serious dilemma that we tried to present within a movie that is lighthearted and silly," he added. "Genre, I think, allows you to tackle some of these more serious societal issues. ... If somebody sees this movie and is like, 'Oh, yeah, maybe I shouldn't buy a poached animal to be popular,' that'll be a success."
Since no real sloths are used in the movie, the chance to anchor a film with a puppet was irresistible to the director.
"We want to see this character on screen. We don't want to do point of view [reaction] shots and only see the puppet in the dark," Goodhue said.
"We wanted Alpha to be the lead character of this movie, and I knew the challenges that would stem from that in doing this practically [instead of animation], but as a filmmaker, it was something I'd never done and I wanted to learn. I wanted to see if we could bring a little, 1-foot creature to life."
And what a life Alpha has!
In addition to murdering sorority members, she can also be seen completing un-sloth-like tasks such as driving a car and operating a desktop computer mouse.
"We didn't want to rule out anything," Goodhue said.
"I think audiences are going to be down for whatever we come up with. We're not trying to pretend that this is a totally normal sloth that only hangs out in trees. This is a movie titled Slotherhouse. We're trying to have as much fun as we can."
The filmmakers made a conscious choice to cast Alpha as female, veering from a long-standing horror movie tradition that focused on psycho male characters like Freddy, Jason, Chucky, Leatherface and Michael Myers.
"It breaks away from the traditional horror killer structure and creates this weird dynamic between Alpha and the girls in the sorority, especially when it comes down to moments of Alpha reaching for and wanting the tiara for herself," Goodhue said.
"She wants to be the queen of the castle," he added. "It's kind of empowering and cool."