The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BLACK CHRISTMAS | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - BLACK CHRISTMAS

black christmas 2019 review
Sorority girls are targeted by a mysterious campus society.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sophia Takal

Starring: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O'Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes

black christmas 2019 poster




The roots of the slasher genre can be traced back to a pair of movies from 1960 - Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, both of which emphasised violence in a way mainstream cinema hadn't tackled before. By the end of the decade their influence could be seen in two distinct cinematic movements - the Italian 'Gialli' and a cycle of gritty British thrillers that saw the creepy boy next door replace Dracula as the key villain of British genre cinema. The two couldn't be more different, with the Italian movies concentrating chiefly (though far from solely, as their detractors might suggest) on style while their British counterparts were laced with social commentary.

In 1974, a Canadian thriller, Bob Clark's Black Christmas, combined the stylish kills and killer's POV of Gialli with the grittiness of those British movies to create a North American hybrid, which when cemented four years later by John Carpenter's Halloween, would give rise to what we now recognise as the slasher genre.

black christmas 2019 review


Given how women constitute both its victims and its heroines, ever since the '70s an ongoing debate has raged over whether the slasher genre is misogynistic in its focus on female victims or empowering for female viewers who get to see women ultimately stand up and fight back against the almost always male villain (the original Friday the 13th is a notable exception). Whichever side you fall on, you can't deny that the slasher genre has given us some of the most iconic young female characters of the last few decades, from Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie Strode to Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott by way of Heather Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson. Conversely, men are left wanting in the slasher genre - if they aren't murderers they're usually ineffectual authority figures or useless boyfriends.

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There's a self-satisfied smugness to Sophia Takal's in name only remake of Black Christmas that suggests it believes it's the first slasher movie to tackle feminist issues, but it's all empty noise. Clark's film gave us a heroine who makes up her mind to have an abortion, and the film is clearly on her side rather than that of her entitled, outraged boyfriend. That was 45 years ago, but the 2019 version has no such courage. Instead its feminist commentary comes with a certificate of excellence from the Alyssa Milano school of tone deaf feminism for privileged white girls. One character sports a t-shirt that reads "Your monologue is boring me," which is ironic given how this Black Christmas can't find a way of espousing its theme without having characters speak in a series of shallow platitudes designed to decorate tumblr pages.

black christmas 2019 review


Takal takes on a heavy subject with a slumming Imogen Poots playing Riley, a college student who was sexually assaulted by a frat boy the previous year. Against the odds, Poots' performance adds a depth to her character that the thoughtless script is constantly attempting to undermine. As an act of revenge, Riley and three of her friends put on a Marilyn Monroe inspired performance at the frat house concerned, in which they recite a song referencing campus rape culture. When Riley professes she's unsure if she can go ahead with it, she's pressured into performing by Kris (Aleyse Shannon), who demands that she "rebuild, bitch."

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Kris is the most problematic aspect of a movie that co-opts timely politics in the most lunk-headed fashion. She's one of those one-dimensional black characters that white liberals specialise in writing, all politics and no personality, and her "friendship" with Riley seems fuelled only by how she can use Riley's victimhood for her own advancement. She's thoroughly despicable. I initially gave the film the benefit of the doubt, assuming that at some point Riley would wake up and realise Kris was as villainous as the hooded crossbow wielding killers that are stalking the campus, but no, Black Christmas doesn't seem to realise how awful Kris is, ultimately asking us to root for a woman who exploits a rape victim for her own political gain.

black christmas 2019 review


While the original had a single killer (or did it?), this Black Christmas has a whole fraternity of evil dudebros, led by an English professor (Cary Elwes). I think we're supposed to dislike him because he teaches the work of dead white men, but again there's an irony to this as Takal homages several horror movies (along with Clark's film we get nods to Exorcist III and House on Sorority Row), all of which were made by... you guessed it, white men.

In 2019, women have come to realise that they need to be more wary of nerds than jocks, but the square-jawed baddies here are as outdated as the villains of Revenge of the Nerds. The girls have one male ally here, and he's exactly the sort of awkward, nerdy "nice guy" who in reality would be far more likely to murder a bunch of sorority girls than the handsome athletes of the rowing team. The modern American college campus is regularly in the news for all the wrong reasons, and it's an environment that seems rife with the elements that might fuel a confrontational political horror movie. Perhaps someone with something to say other than "Slay Queen!" might make good use of it as a backdrop some day.

Black Christmas is in UK/ROI cinemas now.




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