Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Black Christmas (2019)

My notes on Black Christmas (2019)

Bob Clark’s 1974 holiday slasher movie already had a conventional remake in 2006, and now gets another redo, courtesy of Blumhouse – though it could equally pass for a reimagining/sequel-using-the-same-title after the manner of the recent Halloween.  Frankly, it could as easily have been fit into the Prom Night franchise or work as a horror film development of the Skulls series.  The setting and the timeframe of the story – the end of term at an upscale college, with coeds going missing from a sorority house unnoticed because they’d be going home anyway – are from Clark’s film, but this adds a supernatural angle to the slasher business and embeds its scares in an up-to-the-moment indictment of ‘campus rape culture’.

Directed by Sophia Takal, who also co-wrote with April Wolfe, it foregrounds the subtext more than the recent Witches in the Wood – but its editorialising feminist spin is as much in the tradition of 1970s items like Act of Vengeance or Massacre at Central High as it is a contemporary peg on which to hang the stalking and slashing.  Some of the debate is on the nose, but that’s an accurate reflection of the issue.  Even the fact that a frat bad guy can declare one of his bros would never rape an unconscious girl while simultaneously attempting to force himself on a drunk date is horribly convincing in an era where alt-right types knowingly hold irreconcilable positions and are probably saying and doing whatever they think will piss off their perceived enemies the most without even troubling to believe their own shit.

Riley (Imogen Poots) is still not over an incident in her freshman year and has to put up with microaggressions with her well-placed rapist’s pals, smug paternalist disapproval of the traditionalist professor (Cary Elwes) who only teaches white male writers, and even the nagging of her activist friend Kris (Aleyse Shannon) who keeps urging her on to seek justice no matter what it costs her.  Kris has successfully petitioned to have the bust of college founder Calvin Hawthorne from public display – pointing out that he owned slaves ‘in the North!’ – which turns out to be a bad idea, since the statue bleeds magic ink from the eyes and has mystic properties which transform frat pledges into brainwashed assassins and hint at some sort of Brotherhood of the Bell type sorcerous plot to Make America Male Again (as in the recent Pledge).

Takal rushes the scares a bit, with taunting DMs preceding the attacks – and bows and arrows as weapon of choice – and a last reel tumble of ideas and situations that makes for a scrappy finale in which a whole army of final girls rally alongside the heroines to tussle with the unrepentant, magically-empowered git pack.  It bears some signs of being rethought or recut – characters disappear from the plot without being killed, or are disposed of but never mentioned again, and the last-reel punch-up/conflagration is frankly a mess.  Poots, as usual, is excellent, but everyone else has to play catch-up.  There are a lot of one-note characters, but they often sound convincing single notes – the ostensibly nice guy who supports the girls but eventually rails against them, the security guard who doesn’t know what a DM is, the smug teacher using a Camille Paglia quote to shut down feminist argument, the girl who knows her place and betrays her sisters but doesn’t profit from it.  And it has an earworm of a protest song, co-written by Riki Lindhome (Sadie in the Last House on the Left remake and the quietest suspect in Knives Out).  One thing Takal takes from Clark is the look of the thing – making the snowbound, Christmas-decorated, depopulated-for-the-holidays campus into a threatening environment.


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