How a Sloth Became This Halloween’s Best-Rated Slayer

The writers behind Slotherhouse spoke to Jezebel about the success of their absurdist horror film that's currently scoring some shockingly good reviews.

How a Sloth Became This Halloween’s Best-Rated Slayer

Eleven years and 30 million views ago, Kristen Bell was reduced to tears while recalling how her husband surprised her with a sloth for her birthday on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. As so many segments on the defunct daytime program did, the clip—entitled: “Kristen Bell’s Sloth Meltdown”—went viral and an animal beloved for being, well, slow, shot to internet fame really fucking fast. Little did Bell know that such a moment in time would play a part in inspiring this year’s most deranged horror film: Slotherhouse.

Slotherhouse, which released in August and is now streaming on Apple TV and Amazon Prime, follows college senior Emily (Lisa Ambalavanar) as she pines for the role of president of her sorority. The only problem? She’s as kind as her follower count is low and the competition—clout queen and reigning president Brianna (Sydney Craven)—is stiff. Like anyone in pursuit of political supremacy, Emily ultimately determines she needs a gimmick if she’s to win. Naturally, she steals what seems like a sweet sloth off a Joe Exotic-esque animal collector with the hopes that it might be enough to beat the blue-checked and become her sorority’s new mascot. The Sloth, aptly named Alpha, however, has other, homicidal plans, and the horrors that soon consume the house are as ghastly as, well, this.

Sure, Slotherhouse sounds too camp to be real—or worthwhile. The film’s tagline? “Don’t Rush, Die Slowly.” The characters, too, are exaggerated to the point of caricature. Somehow though, Slotherhouse has garnered glowing reviews. The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage called it a “masterpiece”; Variety’s William Earl lauded the “slick” camerawork; and IGN likened it to a “bonkers when-animals-attack midnight treat.” Even PETA, an organization notorious for its many beefs with big budget movies and the bourgeoise, awarded it for promoting wildlife conservation.

Is a sloth wielding a samurai sword against sorority girls ridiculous? Without a doubt. Among the parade of horror releases in 2023—from the second-rate (The Exorcist) to the genuinely stunning (Talk To Me)—Slotherhouse proves it can hang. For an absurdist slasher, it has a lot to say and manages to do so with a sardonic sense of humor and a smart bottom line: Basically, leave nature be or suffer the consequences. The sloth sensationalism, it seems, crawls on.

Over Zoom, writers and producers Bradley Fowler and Cady Lanigan joined Jezebel to discuss their pre-production research (sloth data, if you will), one kill scene that didn’t make the final cut, and how the beta of the animal kingdom became an alpha. This interview has been edited for clarity.

JEZEBEL: First of all, of all endangered animals to be a villain, why a sloth?

Cady Lanigan: At the time that me and Brad went on this creative journey, both of us were looking and seeing sloths everywhere. I mean, Walmart, Target, every major retailer. So there was the zeitgeist of sloth popularity. Then, when we went to do our research for the movie, we were actually able to pinpoint the exact moment that sloths became very popular within culture, which was when Kristen Bell went on The Ellen Show, when her husband Dax Shepard got her the sloth experience for her birthday. Remember that?


CL: We always kind of envisioned Alpha as being a character people already really love because it was so familiar to them. We just wanted to make a really cuddly, amazing, fun character for people to interact with that actually had a name. That’s our Alpha.

Bradley Fowler: I mean, really what it came down to in the very beginning is this central question of like, how sloths survived for millions of years with no natural defense mechanisms…and we sought out to answer that question.

Speaking of the name Alpha, was that an allusion to the Panhellenic system, or was it intentional in that this animal who’s beloved for being a beta would become an alpha via murder?

BF: One of the things I like to dive into with characters is like, you take a character and put them up against all the stereotypical characters that are within that umbrella and then you start to give a voice to it—and not that Alpha has a voice per se. But it just made sense. When it came time for the character to be named, it’s almost like the character named herself.

CL: The double entendre, too, is Alpha is the top, she’s the queen, right?

I read that there was some sort of compilation in pre-production of what you two have referred to as “sloth data.” Now, what does that entail?

CL: Something that was really important to us just on the business side was really making sure that we could share this with as wide of an audience as possible, right? We wanted to make sure to do our homework. One of the things we did in our creative process is we actually hired a market research company to figure out who would love sloths. Who are we making this movie for? We knew horror fans would love it. We knew kids would love it. That’s kind of how we settled on our PG-13 rating as well.

I was really going down a rabbit hole wondering what the hell “sloth data” could be.

BF: [laughs] What? You don’t know sloth data? Have you never been on TikTok?

Apparently, I’m not on Sloth-tok. The sloth in this film is a puppet. That said, what was the most challenging death scene to shoot?

BF: In the initial script, we did not have puppets in mind. We sort of had the modern, “you can do anything you want with VFX” mindset within a relative budget. But once we made the decision to work in puppet land, it definitely presented some serious challenges. We did have to rewrite probably four of the deaths at least, I think.

CL: There was one kill that we really wanted to achieve on set. It was a scene where Alpha flies down a Slip ‘N Slide and kills a girl at the very end of that, and it was just almost impossible to shoot the sequence. We were obviously agile enough to switch into something else that worked for the story, but we were really hoping to get that kill in because it was so absurd. There are compromises you have to make in the production process, and the movie that we originally had is much different than the movie on screen, but I think that’s the beauty of filmmaking. It’s this like, living, breathing thing that you’re constantly having to negotiate with.


Slotherhouse has scored some pretty impressive reviews—from critics and viewers alike—since its release. Currently, it’s sitting at an 82% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Are you shocked?

BF: It’s awesome. The cool thing about this film that’s really sort of touching people is you wouldn’t expect to have a message for people packaged in an absurdist slasher.

Unlikely bordering on ridiculous villains aren’t necessarily a new trope in the horror genre. There’ve been dolls, clowns, lethal dessert, the list goes on. Recently though, it feels like there’s been an influx—X, M3GAN, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, Five Nights at Freddy’s, etc. Some of these examples are female or female-coded. Is it important to you to see or to create more of that in horror films?

BF: Especially in the slasher genre…obviously, there’s female characters for sure, but in the slasher world it’s very, very limited. We didn’t go out and say, “Hey, let’s have this as our main, central focus.” It ended up being like a really pleasant thing that developed throughout the course of the storyline.

CL: Most slashers are male killers or murderers, and so we switched it up. Making the sloth have characteristics that are outside of what you would normally expect, which is cute, cuddly, etc. really adds to the dynamics of the humor.

BF: For me, I think people have seen a lot of superhero movies and I think people are ready to see a little bit more creativity. Not saying I don’t love those movies because I do, but there’s been so many of them that when you have stuff that’s an outlier, that’s different, weird, or strange, I think people find it a breath of fresh air.

Is Alpha a feminist icon?

CL: There’s a lot of strong female empowerment within [Slotherhouse]. From like, a woman perspective, I think it’s really great that we’re seeing more horror icons in the space that can be played with in a lot of different worlds. Overall, I think it’s very exciting to see that.

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