PLOT: A group of sorority sisters are terrorized by a masked assailant during Christmas break. Yet as the attacks get worse, they begin to fight back and uncover a dark conspiracy that some of their classmates are invovled in.
REVIEW: Bob Clark’s classic 1974 holiday horror, BLACK CHRISTMAS, is arguably one of the most creepy and atmospheric genre features ever made. It’s a near perfect chiller, one that perhaps didn’t really need a remake. Well, now we have two. The first, 2006 version, was a goofy and gory display that has a few fans – I’m not one of them. And now we have a brand new gift to unwrap before December 25th. The latest take on BLACK CHRISTMAS is being billed as a modern day message flick tackling “rape culture,” and yes, it does do that. You know what else it does? It takes what is simply a stalker flick and then turns it into more of a home invasion thriller. And then it does something else, and it’s pretty damn ridiculous. I mean, how do you go from BLACK CHRISTMAS to a storyline that would’ve been better as an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? And yes, Buffy did something slightly similar, and did it with much more finesse.
Imogen Poots is Riley, a young woman dealing with a pretty rough past. A couple of years back, she was date raped by a student from a local fraternity. The incident went away and nobody believed her. Hoping to help their friend emotionally move on, Riley’s sorority sisters’ Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Marty (Lily Donoghue) and Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) plan for a bit of fun at the frats drunken talent show. However, some of the members – including an old school Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) – are a bit offended by their musical performance The song they sing openly exposes Riley’s attacker and slams those that didn’t condemn the man in question. Yet the revenge fueled fun soon comes to an end when the girls find themselves under attack at their college home by a masked intruder. Will they survive the night? And what is the reason they’ve been targeted? Trust me when I say, you’ll figure these questions out well before the film’s end.
Honestly, I was hoping to really enjoy this remake. While there are many of you out there that are tired of “woke” stories and films, I went in knowing full well that that would be the direction they’d go for. So for me, that really wasn’t necessarily a massive problem in terms of the quality of the film itself. However, from some of the women’s t-shirts to the terrible male characters, this message is more than a bit heavy-handed. Still, for the first forty-five minutes or so, it was a slightly engaging horror flick with a number of obvious nods towards the original film. Even when it went more into the home invasion portion, I was kind of intrigued. Yet it all changed for the final act, one that begs the audience to go with an outlandish plot twist. It’s so jaw-droopingly silly, that it’s far more comical than scary, and frankly, kind of boring. As mentioned earlier, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it better.
The best thing about this particular telling of a classic horror tale is the cast. Imogen Poots is always a delight, and she brings a real honesty to Riley. She manages to bring a vulnerability and believable strength to a college girl just trying to survive. The same can be said about Shannon, Donoghue and O’Grady. This is an impressive cast that manages to bring a bit of charm, even when the film goes in a few odd directions. In fact, most of the cast – aside from a boring villain or a few – is engaging enough, and even Caleb Eberhardt and Simon Mead have the opportunity to add a couple of personable characters. And as for Cary Elwes, it’s clear that the actor in enjoying playing a bit of a jerk, but it’s just not that interesting of a character.
Writer and director Sophia Takal – who co-wrote the script with April Wolfe – had clear intentions here. This is a revenge flick mixed with many of your familiar horror tropes – and frankly a couple too many fake out jump scares. And while they specifically wanted to avoid an R-rating, it makes the slasher elements feel more than a bit muted. The bloodless kills do offer an ounce of intrigue, but mostly because they pay homage to the original film. As well, there are a few odd editing choices that seem a bit too sudden and choppy. Of coures the biggest issue is that ridiculous final act. It’s nice to see them try and create their own spin on this particular story, but the reason for the killings plays out like a Scooby Doo cartoon with one character explaining their dumb motive. It’s even more frustrating because the less grounded elements come out of nowhere. It’s a bizarre shift that simply doesn’t work.
BLACK CHRISTMAS borrows several elements from the original, including a meowing cat, an icicle and a couple of other kills. Yet, when it finally sheds its skin and reveals the momentum behind the horror, it hardly rises above something you’d see on The CW. Ultimately you have a genre flick that is all about women fighting back, but it’s been done better without such a heavy-handed approach. One film that approached this type of tale much better was the twisted feature from Adam Wingard, YOU’RE NEXT. Had this holiday thriller attempted to tell this story in a way that felt a bit more consistent, this may have been a remake worth entertaining in. Unfortunately this will likely only appeal to an age group that fits nicely within its safe, PG-13 rating. While not horrible, this is simply a lackluster and forced tale that happens to feature a few good performances. If you are desperate for a good scare this holiday, you could check this out. Or just go re-watch the fantastic original film and probably have a much merrier horror holiday viewing.