The Movie Waffler New to VOD - THANKSGIVING | The Movie Waffler


The birthplace of America's Thanksgiving tradition is menaced by a killer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Eli Roth

Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Milo Manheim, Nell Verlaque, Gina Gershon, Tim Dillon, Rick Hoffman

Thanksgiving poster

1974's Black Christmas kicked off a wave of slasher movies centred around various holidays and calendar events, giving us Halloween, Friday the 13th, New Year's Evil and even April Fool's Day to name but a few. With Thanksgiving, one of the fake trailers that appeared in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's 2007 endeavour Grindhouse, Eli Roth parodied this tradition, delivering what many considered the highlight of both that patchy project and Roth's career.

After several failed attempts, Roth has finally expanded the trailer into a feature length movie. It maintains both the trailer's setting of Plymouth, Massachussets, where the Thanksgiving tradition was born (though in classic slasher fashion the movie was actually shot in Canada), and its premise of a killer dressed in a pilgrim outfit wreaking havoc during the town's annual holiday celebrations.

Thanksgiving review

Some of the trailer's highlights are even repeated here, but there are key updates to expand the two minute short to feature length. The Grindhouse trailer gave the impression of a product of the early '80s but the feature is set in the present day. Back in 2007 Thanksgiving wasn't as inextricably linked with Black Friday as it is today, with America's holiday now as commercialised as Christmas. Now when we think of Thanksgiving we think of hordes of angry shoppers with bellies filled with beer and turkey massing outside department stores in anticipation of midnight openings. Roth takes advantage of this modern phenomenon as the perfect opening for a revenge fuelled slasher. Plymouth's largest store, the Right Mart, owned by local bigwigs the Wright family, is the scene of a stampede and riot that leaves several people (including a brief appearance by Gina Gershon) dead.

A year later and Right Mart is pressing on with plans for another Black Friday sale despite the objections of survivors of the tragedy and the loved ones of those who perished. An Instagram account credited to John Carver, the town's first ever mayor, begins tagging several people who were involved in the Right Mart riot with warnings that they will pay for their participation. This includes Jessica (Nell Verlaque), the teenage daughter of Right Mart's owner, and her friends, who begin to be bumped off along with others by a killer in a John Carver mask, a pilgrim hat and a Michael Myers style dark jumpsuit.

Thanksgiving review

Roth is always a welcome presence when he pops up on podcast and in horror documentaries. He has an undeniable passion for and knowledge of the horror genre. Yet he's never been able to translate his enthusiasm into his movies, which have largely been unwatchable. My biggest issue with Roth is that he constantly tries to imitate the gory grindhouse thrillers of the past but his movies are far too slick and sanitised to repeat the sleazy thrills of the films he's attempting to evoke. With its goofy tone, Thanksgiving is a much better fit for Roth's style. Ironically, it's the first time he's failed to deliver a turkey.

Roth has clearly had a long time to think about this project since its 2007 inception, and there's some witty invention on display here in kills that combine splatter with laughs. Jettisoning the grainy look of his Grindhouse trailer, the film has the slick look of a 2000s era teen slasher, and is more in keeping with the second wave of slashers that emerged in the wake of Scream than with the original movies of the 1970s and '80s. As with Scream there's a mystery regarding who is behind the mask, and there's even a disguised voice (which unless my ears are mistaken, is voiced by the director). Various potential suspects are set up, and in a novel touch it's made clear that the killer is on the short side, with Roth filling his movie with actors of reduced stature to keep us guessing, though anyone familiar with slasher movies will have a fair idea of who the killer is early on.

The mystery is far from the point here though, as Thanksgiving is all about its grand guignol set-pieces. In Roth's hands they're a mixed bag. The individual kills are cleverly constructed and end in chucklesome payoffs, but the larger scale set-pieces like the Black Friday riot and the Thanksgiving parade are disappointingly bland. Such events are perfectly primed for the sort of wildly anarchic mayhem seen in the Final Destination series and Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D, but Roth fumbles the brief, leaving us to watch people milling about the place screaming their heads off rather than dying in elaborate fashion.

Thanksgiving review

In spite of its goofy premise, Thanksgiving does indeed spin a whodunit plotline. Again Roth and co-writer Jeff Rendell are out of their depth in this aspect, with a final reveal that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The film's characters are a bunch of blandly written stereotypes - jocks, nerds, cheerleaders etc - which is fine for supporting characters but a movie like this needs a far more interesting final girl than Verlaque's Jessica, who is as bland as unsalted popcorn. In attempting to line up potential suspects, the movie is filled with too many characters, some of whom disappear for long stretches as though the writers have forgotten about them.

Thanksgiving does just enough to deliver on its premise, but despite some fun kills it feels like a missed opportunity to kick off a new slasher franchise. There's certainly room for sequels but you get the feeling Roth has used up all his ideas here and still come up a little short. White meat, dark meat, all are carved, but Thanksgiving is more of a sandwich made from leftovers than a filling meal.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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