Black Christmas Review

By
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Movies:
Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
Rating:
1.5
On December 12, 2019
Last modified:December 13, 2019

Summary:

Black Christmas deserves to be a better slasher satire propelled by empowerment than the messy, tonally obstructed holiday dud we're gifted.

When Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas remake announced a shift from “R” to “PG-13,” the internet – as per brand – flew into an overreactive tirade equating horror quality to “R” designations. My response? Ratings do not maketh the movies. Any film, MPAA ruling aside, depends on its cinematic makeup to deliver a worthwhile theatergoing (or home watching) experience. Black Christmas isn’t one of the year’s most disappointing horror films because it’s “PG-13” rated. It’s because quickie edits around mature “R” content are noticeable, or unbalanced ADR doubles decibel levels, or characters are helplessly underwritten and uncharismatically presented.

Horror movies aren’t “bad” *because* they’re approved below “R.” Horror movies, as with Black Christmas, are “bad” because, well, they’re just poorly constructed and bafflingly ineffective.

In Takal’s iteration, co-written by April Wolfe, sorority sisters find themselves prey for hooded killers on the eve of winter vacation. Imogen Poots stars as Riley, who’s retreated into her personal shell after a fraternal encounter turns into assault. Years later, women are still going unbelieved as Riley’s crew starts receiving stalkerish texts from Hawthorne College’s famed founder “Calvin Hawthorne.” Riley and others are threats, after all, given how Kris (Aleyse Shannon) petitions loudly to denounce Hawthorne of deceased Calvin’s bigoted pro-male agenda. Do you need me to confirm Riley’s in store for anything but a silent night?

Erase any connections to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, as this is a reinvention between Clark’s home invasion masterpiece and 2006’s remade slaughter-slasher meatgrinder. Takal’s vision apes You’re Next on sorority row (for a spell), as masked attackers break into Riley’s dormitory (Hawthorne’s Greek housing is all stone-built mansions). It’s never as dreadfully tense as Clark’s vulgar phone calls though nor kill-happy ambitious as Glen Morgan’s jaundiced ho-ho-horror. What exists as an introduction for teenage girls into horror falls victim to careless death sequences only ever ending with a quick cutaway after yet another isolated mark is about to be snatched by Hawthorne’s hooded assailants. Rinse, repeat, yawn.

Enter the film’s pro-feminist message, screamed through a neon pink megaphone placed three centimeters from your ear. There is, hear me clearly, *no qualm* with such a fiery focus on females turning the tides against male abusers. Black Christmas has *always* been about women’s fears and words being ignored by men (re: 70s abortion talk), and 2019’s reboot supports the need for updating with thematically enraged essentialism. At its most basic, in conceptualization, Takal and Wolfe justify their lesser remake with modernized outcries.

Follies all reside in execution, which fumbles tonality and becomes an unfortunate parody of itself by leaning into thematic empowerment like a sledgehammer to the face. Takal’s problem? Posturing what feels like a gender-bashing exploitation leap-of-faith with the somber cadence of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Every scene has a “#MeToo” or “#NotAllMen” or “Your body, your choice” line peppered in, skewering the patriarchy like beating a corpse into a bloody pulp (except no grotesqueries are shown, e.g. PG-13). What should be a searing fraternal takedown loses weight, nor does Riley’s emotional burden culminate with deserved catharsis. Black Christmas gets lost in its desires, which is a shame because experience-based horror sticks (keys as defense weapons, walking home alone, etc.).

Infinitely worse, 2019’s remake is a mess of continuity (greek letters), cult explanations, and useless character development. Post-production voiceover work stands out like two different co-eds are talking in the same scene despite there only being one student, talking to herself, over a camera angle shift. There’s such little care paid to the technical bits, thinking of how rapid edit techniques are jarring momentum killers just as we’re about to glimpse something wicked (obvious manipulation of “R” to “PG-13”). Production design stages some bright holiday light-work for cinematography to capture, only that’s one twinkling ornament on a tree otherwise full of rusted duds.

You hate to see it, but choice sequences suggest all the makings of a studio ordered hack-and-slice recut. Thinking of Jesse’s (Brittany O’Grady) corpse-in-the-attic callback to Clark’s original, where cameras flip away from certain doom and upon discovering the body minutes later (again, honoring Clark’s iconic scene), viewers only get a blink-quick, back-to-front turn before capturing too much of a sharp object stabbed into her face. Something, assumedly, we would have seen in the “R” version. The ill-paced, short-duration detracts from the reverence being paid and encapsulates recurring issues throughout the assembly of Black Christmas.

Thus bringing us to the killers themselves, who – eh, sorry kids. Let’s approach spoiler territory because I’ve got some feelings about everything that transpires. Those wanting to go in fresh as St. Nick before a night of delivering presents works up his holly-jolly funk? Skip to after the stars. What’s in between will “spill the beans” to speak.

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Remember how you wondered if the trailers revealed all the secrets of Black Christmas? Nail on the head, but *weirder* somehow. Kris’ forcing of Calvin Hawthorne’s bust to be removed from central lobby placement ends up meaning the statue now lives with the school’s vilest frat. We’re talking prep-boy slicked hair, blatant misogyny as a hobby, “women as servents” mentalities – the perfect targets for Calvin’s possession takeover.

Yes, the boys of Delta What Evera discover Calvin’s bust oozes black sludge that injects the headmaster’s spirit into militant pledges, who are inhabited by his insatiable hatred towards women. Either to be domesticated or murdered for disobedience. There’s no grey area, as even “nice guys” are tainted by their male affliction when “migraines” turn out to be their “true alpha” being coaxed out by Calvin’s words. Even the most thoughtful allies harbor darkness hidden deep inside based on chromosomes alone; a subplot that’s never explored with even half the needed commentary.

This is where Black Christmas unravels (further) because the cult has no identity beyond capes and engraved paddles (led by creeper-sophisticate Cary Elwes). It’s stated that Riley’s friends are being hunted because Professor Gelson’s (Elwes) minions hold one personal item per victim, but the “why” escapes us (maybe a commentary on how men are dogs, needing something to sniff before hunting like any trained canine would do). Hawthorne’s juicy bust is “discovered” because someone reads incantations on the statue, yet he never once leaked while on public display? Who’s signing up for this ritual? What’s with the killing of other men who aren’t part of the plan? Where’s any ounce of subtle recognition? Toxic masculinity is combated with a united, girl-power front, but in a way that never permits storytelling to provoke the feelings of maniac exploitation required. Cue sorority warriors with crossbows battling supernatural fratbags “powered” by Hawthorne’s spirit while flames engulf all around – which should be WAY more entertaining than offered.

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Black Christmas

Getting back to basics, frustrations are hammered over and over throughout the film’s duration. There’s never a desire to misguide audiences, as even’s 2006 debacle hooked more red herrings. Mediocrity on-screen is deemed acceptable due to the importance of addressing man’s villainous role in society. It all feels like a heavy-handed PSA that forgets what made Bob Clark’s original an infamously heralded slasher origin – a blueprint that couldn’t be replicated, so Halloween became the franchise formula to imitate (even here via Fran’s demise). Takal and Wolfe take a mighty home-run hitter’s swing at granting new generations, forgotten demographics, their “Christmas Horror” classic. Although, dare I say even Into The Dark’s done a better job at that?

Oh, and performances – wait, this review is *how* long already? Well, I’ll glance by Imogen Poots and her spunky supporting cast being failed by two constant modes: college-chick perkiness or at-odds collegiate drama. There’s no in-between. It’s either laughs shared over schmaltzy sisterhood buildup (ants are important, somehow) or screechy fighting that escalates without natural regard (again, clashing tones). Characters who backpedal on what little development exists to basely further plotting. That, and average dudes who are paid even less attention and planted as buffoonish devices (not the frat monsters, mind you).

Black Christmas (2019) will not be remembered as a seasonal gift to genre audiences. Sophia Takal’s latest Blumhouse collaboration doesn’t add to her impressive previous catalog that includes Always Shine and New Year, New You. Takal’s holiday slasher fails to keep a hot streak from freezing over, and might even feel out of her hands at times, but nevertheless. No matter the reasoning, what results will leave horror fans of all ages, genders, and preferences scratching their heads. A few vocal moments of “women CANNOT be broken” wrapped-up in the sloppiest, most slapped-together decorative disaster.

Black Christmas Review
Bad

Black Christmas deserves to be a better slasher satire propelled by empowerment than the messy, tonally obstructed holiday dud we're gifted.

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