Movie Review: ‘Black Christmas’
Director: Sophia Takal
Cast: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Simon Mead, Cary Elwes
Plot: As the students of Hawthorne College head home for the holidays a masked killer begins stalking the sorority girls left on campus.
Review: Let’s start with a quick history lesson. Black Christmas first appeared in 1974 and is considered to be among the first slasher movies ever made. Part if its success was a decision early in the process to create realistic characters among the members of the sorority house that made up the cast. It was then remade in the 1990s with a disturbing focus on incest and pulling out eyeballs. It’s gross and not really worth your time. With a new 2019 remake in an age of the #metoo movement there’s plenty of opportunity to re-examine and remix the ‘sorority girl massacre’ trope that now feels dated. Or maybe it can go down the path of a kitschy throwback, play up the retro feel of the premise.
Whatever the intent of the film-makers of this particular iteration of the classic, they have not succeeded as Black Christmas fails as a horror movie and with delivering an attack against patriarchal attitudes. The premise this time around is that a group of sorority sisters at the prestigious Hawthorne College have been speaking out against an ingrained anti-women message among nearby fraternities and the faculty. They’re circulating a petition to fire a professor who only teaches literature written by white men and they’re pranking a frat-house tied into sexual assault. As Christmas comes closer and the women become the targets of a masked psychopath it becomes clear that the fraternity are harbouring a dark secret.
There’s plenty done wrong in this movie, but the first and most notable issue is how slowly paced the movie is. There’s a clear difference between a movie being a ‘slow burn’ to build suspense and fuck-all happening, and this movie plants itself firmly in the category of fuck-all. Every shot drags on and on as we watch students walk down the street and conversations drag out only to serve little to no impact on the plot. A tense scene of our lead, Riley (Poots) spying on the frat boys partaking in an odd ritual feels sluggish and doesn’t get addressed until much later in the film.
In one scene we remain staring at a hallway with a fixed camera as a sorority girl goes into one room, remains off screen for a few moments, returns, goes into another room and remains off screen for another half-minute before repeating the process a THIRD time before she’s attacked. There’s nothing that this movie isn’t prepared to repeat two or three times in a failed attempt to set up a jump scare. Want the character to plug in some Christmas lights only to find they don’t work? Why not do it three times?
This could work to set up a few jump scares, but it is literally the only way any character gets attacked. They walk back-and-forth three times and then the hooded killer is standing next to them. There’s never any attempt to subvert expectations by having the killer turn up sooner than expected or not at all…it’s always on the third circuit. It’s tiresome, and made all the more tedious by the killer appearing in spots we know they could not have been moments before.
If you’re in it just for the kills (you sicko), then you’re out of luck. It would appear our old friend Blumhouse is chasing the younger viewer demographic again by keeping the gore to a minimum. Almost all the deaths happen off screen and there’s no blood. None. Even a scene where the lead has her face cut with a knife produces a series of cuts that do not bleed. Not a drop. It’s completely destroys any sense of threat or realism.
Finally, we get to the message about the patriarchy. The premise of a sorority fighting back against rich, white male psychopaths who don’t want their ‘names dragged through the mud’ by rape accusations is a horror movie I want to see, but Black Christmas completely and utterly botched it. First, there’s Professor Gelson (Elwes, who is better than this) who reportedly only teaches books by white males. But, as he points out, it’s a course on classic Western literature and you’d have to look hard to find important works that weren’t written by stuffy, white academics. It’s not clear why our heroes feel justified in getting him fired. Then there’s the ‘revenge’ they enact on rapist frat boys, where they perform a scathing diss track…at the boy’s own talent show. Not sure what the end goal there was.
I hate sounding dismissive of these issues because they are real problems that occur in the world with alarming frequency and it’s very clear who the culprits are, but this movie just a downright terrible job of framing the sorority girls are heroic for their actions. Ultimately it’s revealed that the bust of the college founder has been oozing some tar stuff that has been brainwashing the frat boys and allowing them to murder women, so they’re not completely responsible for their actions in the movie. Imagine if the internet Red Pill community were able to control the actions of random users…it’s basically that. Except dumber.
It’s not clear why the frat boys couldn’t just be murdering the girls because they’re a bunch of psychopaths who hate women, as such people do exist in the real world, and show how the male dominated power structure keeps them from being found out…because that might’ve been a better movie.
This is a bad script, turned into a badly directed and acted movie that fails to delivering the intended social commentary or any scares and gore that would interest a horror fan. You will have a better experience watching either one of the other versions. Even the weird eyeball/incest one.
I will give one star for the ridiculousness of a character running into the final battle wielding a menora in bizarre moment of holiday equality. See above.
Rating: TWO out of TEN