Frustrated with “Scream” Season 3 being delayed indefinitely, I was excited to stumble across “Slasher” Season 2 (2017) on Netflix. Chiller’s Season 1 was strong, but Season 2 of Aaron Martin’s Canadian horror mystery series is better. It is gorier, with remarkably creative kill scenes, but it’s also a more compelling mystery that allows us to feel for – or be creeped out by — a lot of the characters.
The eight-episode story – unrelated to Season 1 — is subtitled “Guilty Party,” and that’s a valid moniker, but it could’ve been called “Dead of Winter.” Like the 2016 Freeform series “Dead of Summer,” which started strong before its “American Horror Story”-esque late-story collapse, “Slasher” Season 2 works because of its smart structure. The present-day story about a group of former summer camp counselors returning to the camp — now a commune – in the middle of winter is interspersed with flashbacks to five years ago.
In “Dead of Summer,” we got a story of present-day counselors interspersed with flashbacks to their stories as kids – one character per episode. It worked well for a while, but had two problems. Once we got to like a character, they were often killed off. And it eventually became apparent that the characters who hadn’t been introduced yet were likely to be the killer.
“Slasher” Season 2 has those issues to some degree, but it works better because the whole group of counselors is in the flashbacks. In present day, they are uneasy around each other because they killed a colleague and covered it up five years ago. Their bond is tight, even if none of them like it. Now they aim to move the body before it’s discovered in an upcoming construction project.
The series opens with a flashback to the counselors partying around a campfire in the woods. Then we jump-cut ahead a few minutes (I rewound to see if I had spaced out and missed something) to the manipulative Talvinder, deliciously played by Melinda Shankar, beaten and bloody. Her friends have put Talvinder “on trial” for her transgressions. She had betrayed the friendship of Andi (Rebecca Liddiard) by ruining her relationship with Peter (Lovell Adams-Gray). Noah (Jim Watson) is peeved at Tal turning his affections to her own use, and Dawn (“Degrassi” and “Being Erica” veteran Paula Brancati) knows Tal has lied to her and poisoned a budding romance with another camp worker.
What’s cool about the structure is that the entirety of the fateful night comes together piecemeal over the course of the eight episodes. Watching only the opening scene is frustrating, but that frustration soon turns into a hook where we love finding out the next puzzle piece – including the big one: “Who actually killed Talvinder?”
Additionally, the present-day action is a more personal riff on “I Know What You Did Last Summer” mixed with the tension of “The Thing.” The commune members – including Leslie Hope, best known as Teri Bauer in “24” Season 1 — begin to wonder if they should’ve let these young folks stay there for the weekend. The ex-counselors wonder if all the commune folks can be trusted; these people are trying to rebuild their lives with a makeshift family, but what are the tragic details of their backgrounds?
Dawn has brought a gun; it keeps changing hands. Yet it’s clear that the killer is way more creative than that. The first killing harkens to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but it’s hard to find parallels to those that follow. Let’s just say some of the kills repurpose winter sporting equipment in ways that are not factory-approved. Martin and his team also get great mileage out of a skeleton that provides an old-fashioned wiggins to go with the gore-ific deaths.
“Slasher” Season 2 also taps into a specific trick used by at least a couple other movies (including a famous one) where one character is not who he/she seems to be, as presented to the audience. The trick is telegraphed so blatantly, especially around mid-season, that I wondered if it was not intended to be a surprise, but rather a revelation. In the end, it seems it was meant to be a surprise. That’s the only half-banana demerit this series gets from me – because if I spotted a twist before I was supposed to, that means everybody did.
Still, “Slasher” Season 2 had me on the edge of my couch the entire way not only with its smartly structured mystery – allowing for fun chat exchanges with my buddy as we guessed who the killer might be – but also with its winter’s-night mood and appreciation for its characters’ psyches and interplay in this secluded location. Rather than just paying lip service to the idea that karma is catching up with these people, “Guilty Party” illustrates it in chilling and subtext-laden ways. Literally and figuratively, the skeleton won’t stay buried.