Dir. Sophia Takal (2019)
A group of female students is stalked by a serial killer during their Christmas break.
Look, men suck. I've got no qualms admitting that. Women as a whole have a legitimate gripe against the patriarchy, and it's difficult to really argue against the presence of this nefarious, sexist hierarchy in which the world has existed for millennia. Of course, not all men are rapists, and of course, not all men have power. But that's not the point, either. The point is that men, as a whole, have done everything within their power to run the world by systematically and brutally repressing women whenever the need arose to do so to maintain their hold on the halls of power. Beyond that, there are the smaller aggressions, with everything from mansplaining to gaslighting permeating every layer of male society. Regardless of your perspective on the events of the last several years and their effect on the relation between the sexes, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the women wouldn't have a fairly good reason to be frustrated.
Enter Black Christmas, a reboot of the classic slasher flick that does everything within its power to make a point that's already been made far more fruitfully many times over.
Riley (Imogen Poots) and her sorority sisters Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Marty (Lily Donoghue), and Jesse (Brittany O'Grady) are putting on a performance at the talent show run by the biggest fraternity at their college. They perform a skit in which Riley tells the attendees about her rape by the old head of the frat, Brian (Ryan McIntyre). Shortly thereafter, they begin receiving threatening DMs from an account claiming to be the founder of the college, and when their sisters begin to disappear one by one, the girls find themselves in a struggle for survival right before Christmas. Is this a simple case of campus rape culture gone crazy, or is there perhaps something more sinister and supernatural afoot?
I think now is a good time to re-discuss one of my favorite horror topics: the differentiation between a classic horror movie and its remake. There is very little about 2019's Black Christmas that is in any way related to Bob Clark's 1974 original film. It's not a sequel so much as it is a post-feminist slasher flick trying to piggyback off of its more famous predecessor. There are exceedingly few references to the cult classic, with a rare bone thrown to fans of the original just to make it seem like they tried to relate the two films. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, insofar as the films don't particularly need to be related to tell a good story. Perhaps its unfortunate that they share a name when they didn't need to, but that alone is not enough to write this film off. What is enough to write the film off, however, is that it's an awkward and largely ineffective film that never really succeeds in telling the story it wishes to tell.
If the sorority sisters were able to beat their attackers on the head as viciously as the filmmaker's message does the audience, they likely would've escaped harm a lot more easily than they did in the film. There is very little nuance or grace in this example of storytelling, and what we are left with is a tame, watered-down slasher film aimed at younger female horror fans. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. There have certainly been plenty of horror movies aimed at young men, with varying levels of return on investment. But a film that attempts to capitalize on a sudden interest in its subject matter, that of men's continual attempt at dominance over women, needs to be a little more innuendo and finesse. Black Christmas 2019 has all of the sublety of a brick to the face.
There were a couple of interesting scenes that almost made the whole thing worthwhile, however. The snow angel scene in the beginning of the flick was rad and creative, an incredibly festive kill that feels 100% Christmas. There was also a reference to the iconic hallway scene in The Exorcist III, a quick zoom to a killer who attacks one of the sisters from behind. Of course, if you don't mind an uncoordinated and careless film that villifies men in overtly ridiculous ways, sure, this one may be your jam. And I'm not faulting you for that, we certainly deserve all that and more. But there are plenty of better examples of the critique, told in more artful and creative ways rather than beating a dead horse, reviving it with ancient fraternity magic, and then beating it to death again. Despite a lot of the criticism that you may have read about this film, it is this lack of sophistication that really dooms the film, not its unfortunate choice of title.
Who this movie is for: Slasher fans, Christmas horror lovers, Gloria Steinam
Bottom line: There's a whole lot not to love about this film, if I'm being honest. It's perhaps not quite as bad as a lot of people say, but it's awfully close. It's slow, extremely biased, and lacks one hundred percent of the nuance and subtlety necessary to completely sell its message. It's also almost entirely bloodless, painfully cringey, and one that does absolutely nothing to live up to its namesake. And I didn't even particularly like Black Christmas.