Black Christmas (2019)
After coming under fire for his comments in a Polygon interview in 2018, where producer Jason Blum claimed that Blumhouse’s eleven-year lack of female-helmed films was due to there being ‘not a lot of female directors period,’ a movie like Black Christmas was as inevitable as an annoying drunk relative at Christmas lunch. Sadly, Blum’s backed the wrong filmmaker in Sophia Takal, who showed promise after directing an episode of Hulu’s horror anthology Into the Dark titled You Year, New You (2018). You see, Takal’s updated version of the 1974 slasher classic Black Christmas and its so-so 2006 remake puts gender politics first, the film a lousy PG-13 botching of an R rated classic — heck, this Christmas-themed horror flick could possibly be the year’s biggest turkey!
Attempting to tackle the college experience from the perspective of women, looking at misogyny and those groups that normalize or trivialize sexual assault/ abuse, while hitting back against how females have been treated in slasher films in general, Black Christmas is a total dud. I fully support its inherent politics and stabs at destroying rape culture and patriarchy, but the script by Takal and April Wolfe is about as subtle as the neon pink text splattered across the film’s black and white poster. Aside from this, moviemakers ignore what genre fans are essentially paying to see — bloody violence, an engaging plot, and kick-ass characters. The film gets a lot wrong; from its on-the-nose critique of rape culture to an ‘all men are toxic’ message, and let’s not forget about its bloodless, cheap-looking set pieces.
Black Christmas centers on Riley Stone (Imogen Poots), a reserved member of MKE (Mu Kappa Epsilon), a close sorority of gal-pals in the fictional Hawthorne College, which was once an all-male school. While everyone else is celebrating their last week on campus before heading home for the holidays, Riley has other issues on the mind, as Brian Huntley (Ryan McIntyre), the guy responsible for a traumatic near-rape incident some years ago, is returning to campus for an end of semester bash at DKO (Delta Kappa Omega), a misogynistic frat that hasn’t evolved with the times, and are known for their rampant sexism.
Already a little jittery, Riley gets worried after her friend Helena (Madeleine Adams) doesn’t come home from a party, suspecting that one of the boys from DKO has done something illicit to her. Riley’s three besties — ambitious athlete Marty (Lily Donoghue), bubbly Jesse (Brittany O’Grady), and headstrong activist Kris (Aleyse Shannon), who corrects anyone who refers to them as ‘girls’ instead of ‘women’ — think that she’s being overly paranoid. That is until they start getting stalkerish texts from someone claiming to be Hawthorne College’s famed founder Calvin Hawthorne and then later come face-to-face with a black-masked murderer. Convinced that long-standing Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) has something to do with the disappearances, seeing as Kris is petitioning to get him fired for only teaching books written by ‘old white dudes,’ the women start to question whether they can trust any of the men around them as they strive to uncover the sinister plot lurking beneath the walls of Hawthorne.
So, why does Black Christmas 2019 fail so miserably to encapsulate the rape-revenge, slasher, final girl trope adequately? A good comparison to make would be with 2017’s Revenge, a stylish, gory-as-hell vengeance tale written and directed by French female filmmaker Coralie Fargeat. While Revenge gave us a heroine to look up to and cheer on, the women employing the frame in Black Christmas are generic stereotypes with little in the way of personality; i.e., Riley is the sexual assault survivor, Kris the vocal feminist, and Jesse, the playful friend — that’s about as deep as they get. Similarly, while the male characters in Revenge were also depicted as mean and ugly, this film makes the mistake of saying that every man is the same and has the potential to be a predator; and whilst this is ostensibly true, it’s insulting that the only guy to retaliate this notion, Marty’s beta-male boyfriend Nate (Simon Mead), is shot dead by a bow-and-arrow minutes later.
All of this could have been forgiven if the film delivered the goods in terms of sleigh-bell slayings, but, noble intentions aside, Black Christmas ’19 is a limp, lifeless slog, and an embarrassment to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas legacy — the series that gave us the famous ‘The calls are coming from inside the house!’ trope, and arguably began the whole slasher genre. Heck, the only red-blooded Yuletide delight is a sequence where the gals, dressed as sexy Santas, perform a satirical version of the classic Christmas song ‘Up on the Housetop’ to humiliate the fraternity guys in front of a crowd as a revenge for their past actions.
Imogen Poots, Green Room (2015), a generally decent actress, is one-note as Riley. She’s playing a traumatized rape victim who no one’s believed and was taken advantage of in her freshman year. She kinda goes through this arc that shows us that victims don’t have to be victims their whole life. The problem is that her character never uses her anxiety or self-doubt to fight back — she just sort of does because *insert random empowering phrase.* Think of the film as that one person who goes to a rally just to shout things out or make noise — there’s no depth to anything. The other performances are just as ordinary; Cary Elwes, Saw (2006), phones it in as the mansplaining professor (no prizes for guessing who the baddie winds up being), while Caleb Eberhardt, The Post (2017), is bland as Landon, an upcoming college DJ who has a thing for Riley but is too shy to say something to her. On a side note, all the actors who portray the douche bros look exactly the same and are interchangeable — honestly, I couldn’t even tell you who was who.
Ultimately, Black Christmas misses the mark. This #MeToo thriller won’t satisfy horror nuts and probably won’t resonate with many feminists either, or anyone looking for some kind of thrill. It’s as superficial as an end-of-work Kris Kringle gift — the intentions might be good, but the whole exercise is artificial. While many didn’t dig 2006’s Black Christmas revamp, it’s a tastier treat than this ‘woke’ joke that’s for sure!
1 / 5 – Don’t Waste Your Time
Reviewed by Mr. Movie