Cinematographer Brandon Riley on the B-movie aesthetics of 'Slice', starring Chance the Rapper as a pizza delivering werewolf

Cinematographer Brandon Riley on the B-movie aesthetics of 'Slice', starring Chance the Rapper as a pizza delivering werewolf

Studio A24's latest offering 'Slice' is a delightful combination of all things unlikely. The '80s styled lo-fi slasher is centered around the mysterious killings of pizza delivery staff in the small town of Kingfisher. Oddly enough, Kingfisher is a town where humans and 'ghosts' live side by side. Well, sort of.

The prime suspect for the killings is Dax Lycander, a disgraced werewolf with an internal conflict of conscience. Dax is played by Chance the Rapper, marking the multi-Grammy-winning star's first full-length feature appearance. As the mystery unfolds, we learn the deep dark secrets of the town of Kingfisher and the social injustice faced by the ghosts.

Along the way, we encounter a crazy drug lord, a coven of liberal activist witches, a classic detective duo trope, and many other interesting characters. The entire film is held together with oodles of style and a score that instantly transports you back to the synth wave era of the '80s. With a range of film styles, this pastiche of the classic slasher B-movie flick has a lot of potential to gain a cult following among both horror comedy enthusiasts and Chance the Rapper fans. 

Available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, 'Slice' is directed by Austin Vesely, who has worked with Chance on several music videos as the Chicago artist rose to fame, including 2015's 'Chance the Rapper: Sunday Candy'. The eclectic cast features Zazie Beetz ('Deadpool 2', 'Atlanta'), Hannibal Buress and Joe Keery ('Stranger Things') among others.

Brandon Riley, the cinematographer of 'Slice', discusses the style of the film, working with Chance, the recent rise to popularity of horror-comedy and the '80s synth wave era, the underlying themes of social injustice in the film, being inspired by David Lynch and more. Read the full interview below:

'Slice' is a beautiful looking film with gritty, lo-fi, 80s style aesthetic. The opening sequence with the cheesy 90s styled campaign video for Mayor Tracy (Chris Parnell) pretty much sets the tone for what's coming visually in the rest of the film.

Yeah, I think you nailed it. It's the kind of 80s/ 90s slasher throwback kind of film so you got it right on the head with that.

The style is making a big comeback these days with the likes of 'Stranger Things' and Steven Speilberg's 'Ready Player One' paving the way. Why do you think that's happening?

I think it's just timing. The filmmakers who have the opportunity to make those films - with the exception of Speilberg, of course - kinda grew up on that stuff and it's that nostalgia and the yearning for simpler times. Maybe also because of the technology that's gotten so easy to use. It looks so clean and crisp. It's maybe become a little homogenized and people yearn for that old look they remember when they just had VCR tapes.

Brandon Riley (R) is the cinematographer for 'Slice', starring Chance the Rapper in his first full-length feature film. (Photo Credit: Impact 24)
Brandon Riley (R) is the cinematographer for 'Slice', starring Chance the Rapper in his first full-length feature film. (Photo Credit: Impact 24)

True! With the whole ultra HD thing, sometimes it looks so real that it feels to good to be real, doesn't it?

Yeah, it is almost too real. People sometimes want to be transported instead. If you want to watch a documentary, then you can watch a documentary. Sometimes, you wanna watch a film that makes you forget that it's reality, you know?

Makes sense. Now, you worked with Austin Vesely on 'Slice', who also directed and wrote the film. How is it working with Austin?

It's always great working with Austin. I had done a couple of music videos with him prior to the film and we did pre-production for this film for about two years because of the financing situation and some other things. So we spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about it and scouting all that stuff. So, yeah. It was great working with him.

Chance the Rapper plays Dax, a werewolf with a conscience in 'Slice', marking his first full-length feature film appearance. (Photo by Danielle Alston, courtesy of A24)
Chance the Rapper plays Dax, a werewolf with a conscience in 'Slice', marking his first full-length feature film appearance. (Photo by Danielle Alston, courtesy of A24)

Speaking of music videos, Austin made 'Chance the Rapper: Sunday Candy' a couple of years ago. Were you involved with the project?

I was. I was on the periphery of that particular project. They used my camera and I did a bit of consulting. But the first video I did with him was actually a Kelani video with Chance the Rapper called 'The Wake', which was a pretty big success for her and for us. So that was the first collaboration we had. Then we did a couple of other Chance videos and some other projects here and there. So we've worked together a good bit in the last couple of years.

So it's not your first time working with Chance the Rapper then?

No, I've been working with Chance since probably 2012 on various projects.

But surely the game is different now, considering this is a full-length feature film.

Everything was different. By the time we made this film, Chance was a three-time Grammy Award-winning artiste and a guy who'd toured the entire world. And when we first started working with him, he was just a local Chicago guy on the rise. So yeah, everything had changed. Then obviously, the difference between music videos and features is self-evident. But on the same point, the relationships were still there. The vibe was still the same. So that was great.

Zazie Beetz in 'Slice'. (Photo by Nolis Anderson, courtesy of A24)
Zazie Beetz in 'Slice'. (Photo by Nolis Anderson, courtesy of A24)

'Slice' offers an interesting approach to the horror-comedy genre. There are almost zero jump scares and the film has a relaxed, laid-back pace with plenty of laughs thrown in between. Was it a conscious choice to keep all the jump-scares at bay?

The genre of this film was kind of defined after it was shot, in a way. You know, distributors and humans need to classify things. Therefore it fell into the horror-comedy bracket. But it was more of a black comedy or something along those lines. There's really no gore and as you said, there are really no jump scares. So to call it horror is kind of an affront to actual horror filmmakers. I think it was more fantasy than horror. It just happens to revolve around murders. But again, Austin's never one for super gory filmmaking so it was never gonna be that... it's just easier to say horror comedy or whatever. And it is kind of a buzzword these days.

There are also elements of a discourse around racism in the film. Especially in the interaction between the ghosts and the humans that live side by side in the town and how the ghosts are sort of marginalized. Was that a take on how we treat each other and the boundaries that we create between ourselves?

A hundred percent! I think it's not just racism - it's classism. Any sort of '-ism' if you'd like. Austin is a very politically engaged individual. Almost without even trying, this sort of story is going to come out of him because he's very compassionate toward the issues of the day. He's very aware and engaged [in the issues]. If you follow him on Twitter, you'll see that he is very disturbed by what's going on. Without putting words in his mouth, this is sort of his attempt at political commentary that can also be easily digestible.

Official theatrical poster for 'Slice'.
Official theatrical poster for 'Slice'.

An interesting shot is a montage at the end of the film, with the ghosts running helter-skelter and murdering all the humans in slo-mo. It was set to the tune of 'Dark Night of the Soul' by Dangermouse featuring David Lynch. Was that a homage to Lynch?

Yeah, definitely. Again, to give credit to Austin, the music used throughout the film was what he had written into the script basically. So it was up to one of our co-producers Kevin McGrail, who was also in charge of locking down the music placements. But yeah, Austin has always been a huge fan of David Lynch. We watched 'Blue Velvet' in preparation for this film and of course, 'Twin Peaks' - there are elements of that kind of stuff [in the film]. When we were able to get [Dark Night of the Soul] he was ecstatic. He wrote that into the script. That he wanted this song for that montage. So for Kevin to be able to pull that off was great for everyone.

It's not common practice to write music into the script, is it?

No, it isn't. But Austin has a musical background. He was a drummer in high school so I think he thinks that way. Then, of course, we come from music videos and that [montage] is one of the most music video portions of the films so obviously... He kind of sees and thinks that way I think.

Paul Scheer, Lakin Valdez and Rae Gray star in 'Slice'. (Photo by Danielle Alston, courtesy of A24)
Paul Scheer, Lakin Valdez and Rae Gray star in 'Slice'. (Photo by Danielle Alston, courtesy of A24)

Anything interesting that you're working on in the near future?

I'm doing a show with LeBron James for HBO. I've got a couple of episodes under my belt that I'm working on. I've got a couple of other features kind of in a similar space that explores different worlds that exist within our current world. One's called 'Shop' and the other is called 'Zombie of Honor'. [They] sort of address the social ills that are going on but in a fun way that you can either take or leave. You'll enjoy the film whether you're political or not. Either way, they're good stories that have a lot to say. So those are the two projects that I'm working on right now.

Wait, did you say 'Zombie of Honor'? That sounds interesting!

Yeah! It sort of takes place in the upper classes of society. It's basically about a group of bridesmaids who electrocute themselves and turn into zombies before the wedding and the wedding planner tries to keep the wedding going. But it has some other social commentaries about zombies being second-class citizens! It's similar in tone to 'Slice', but it's female-driven and should be a fun project. It's in pre-production. We'll probably shoot it in early 2019.

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