Black Christmas (2019)
black christmas | sophia takal | april wolfe | imogen poots | aleyse shannon | lily donoghue | remake | slasher | united states | new zealand | mystery | thriller | christmas | brittany o'grady | caleb eberhardt | cary elwes | simon mead | madeleine adams | ben black
Film: Black Christmas
Director: Sophia Takal
Writer: Sophia Takal and April Wolfe
Starring: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon and Lily Donoghue
Now I’m going to lead off here stating that I dig the original. It isn’t my favorite, but it is a classic for sure. I didn’t mind the first remake, but I recognized that it has some major flaws. When this was announced, I was intrigued to check it out. I heard a lot of blowback, but I personally like to come in open minded to give it a chance. I actually caught this opening night with my girlfriend as well. The synopsis is a group of female students are stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break. That’s until the sorority women discover that the killer is part of an underground college conspiracy.
We start seeing that this is around Christmas time. There’s a woman leaving a library, Lindsay (Lucy Currey). She thinks someone is following her and she gets a weird direct message from Caleb Hawthorne, the founder of the school. To preface this, he has been dead since the late 1890s and the messages are threatening. She’s then attacked by someone in a black mask.
It then introduces us to our lead the next morning. She is Riley (Imogen Poots). She is a sorority and we get there’s a bit of self-esteem issues from how she is dressing herself that morning. She interacts with some of her sisters which include Marty (Lily Donoghue), Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) and Helena (Madeleine Adams). She then goes to class that is taught by Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes). We get an interesting interaction where he calls Riley over how she describes a writing he is reading off to point out the problematic mindset of feminism.
As she is leaving class we really get to see her friend Kris (Aleyse Shannon) is an outspoken feminist. She got the bust of Caleb Hawthorne removed from campus as he was a racist, misogynist. It was taken to the fraternity that he founded on campus. She is currently trying to get signatures to get Prof Gelson fired for pretty much what he did to Riley in class that morning.
At a local coffee shop we see more interactions of these young ladies as well as a guy who is interested in Riley. He’s name is Landon (Caleb Eberhardt) and he’s kind of shy and awkward. It appears that Riley is interested as well.
That night is a talent show at the fraternity of the founder. Riley is there prepping Kris, Marty, Jesse and Helena. The problem is that Helena is missing and Riley goes to find her. On her way she sees an odd ritual with the pledges that looked to be dark. She then finds her friend in a room with Phil McIllaney (Ben Black). It appears he’s coming on too strong and she steps in to prevent Helena from being raped. We also learn that Riley is reserved as the former president of this frat, Brian Huntley (Ryan McIntyre) did this to her. He is back in town and going to be at the talent show. This is why Riley is not performing.
The girls go on stage and sing a song that calls out the fraternity for what happened to Riley and the culture of them in general. This doesn’t sit well as we see other women in this sorority are picked off. It comes to a head that night when the house is attacked. These young women have two choices, die or fight back. It is much darker the more they learn about what is going on.
Alright, I’m fully ready for some blowback on some of things that I’m going to say. I’ve been called misogynistic before. That is far from the truth though, but I’ll admit I’ve said some things I regret under the influence of alcohol. Is that an excuse? Nope and I will definitely own what I said and move forward from there. Now with that out of the way, this film has some really bad writing. I love when we have some social commentary, but this is too ham fisted with it and too in your face. I feel there’s a good movie and story here, but they decided to go too on the nose with it.
To start with the positives, I love what they did here by changing what we got in the original. We all know that many of the founding fathers were racist and the culture at that time was also one where men were considered superior. Hell I can say that we still see that even today with people around me and how they speak. This film though establishes early that Caleb Hawthorne was into black magic. I dig that and even what it leads to, but I also think that it becomes a bit problematic and could have been handled a bit better.
I even like these young women fighting back, I actually really dig that if I’m going to be honest. Despite what feminist think, I actually believe that most slashers really are empowering of women. Sure many are made by men and give nudity to guys, but a majority of slashers have the ‘Final Girl’ that ends up defeating the killer. My problem though is that the writing starts of making these women seem and sound dumb. You can establish that they need to grow into these strong women without doing what they did to start. I was legit cringing listening to some of this early on. I could have done without the climatic scene that I saw someone on Twitter call an ‘Anchorman-esque’ fight and you know what, they were right.
My goal isn’t to just bash this film though, I just want to re-iterate that. I do think that the some of the frat guys we get here are definitely real life representations. My problem though is that Nate (Simon Mead) who is dating Marty is beaten down by her and Kris for pretty much just being a male. When he tries to stand up for himself, he’s treated like shit for it. Nate legit is on their side though! Like he agrees to an extent with them, which is where I fall in my beliefs. Before you hate on me, my girlfriend actually said a lot of this as the film ended as well.
That will take me to the pacing of this, which I actually thought was fine. We get a runtime of about 90 minutes. It establishes stuff pretty early on, I mean literally rams it down our throats, but it doesn’t take long for the deaths to start. We learn about our characters and then we get to moment where they have to decide what to do. I like that Riley gets growth into the character she has to be. What is really interesting as well was Kris and her dilemma. She is so outspoken, until she needs to truly fight. The ending though I didn’t care for if I’m going to be honest.
I’ll move this next to the acting. I thought Poots was really good. She did a great job in showing the effects that a sexual assault can have on someone. She’s much more introverted because of it and it made me feel horrible for her. That is important though to her growth into the badass that she is at the end though. Shannon I actually didn’t mind either, except that she is a social justice warrior that is obnoxious. I agree with what she is fighting for, but I think she just goes a bit too far at times. I do like that she gets weaker though when it really gets tough, as I feel that’s what a lot of people do. I actually didn’t really care for anyone else though. They’re over the top characters. I think the writing hurts the cause for women, but I will say, the males being misogynistic works for what they needed here. I do think they could have toned it down slightly. I will give credit as well to Eberhardt, I thought he was kind of adorable and Mead was solid. Elwes, Black, McIntyre and the rest of the frat were good in making me hate them. I will be honest, I think they’re characters we get here are legit who some guys are in real life for sure.
Now the elephant in the room, being that this is a slasher I have to go to the effects. Seeing that it was PG-13, I’m not surprised coming from Blumhouse. I do think that we get some cool deaths. This includes an icicle and some deaths from the original film. The problem does become that many of these are done off-screen though and they toned down the blood. I don’t think this ruins the film, but it does bring it down a bit if I’m honest. It is shot well and I think the framing does help to build tension.
With that said, I came in with an open mind, but this isn’t a good film. It is a shame though as I think there are some really good ideas and concepts here, but the writing hurts it. It is too on the nose, the characters are just written poorly and the dialogue at times is cringe worthy. The runtime and pacing though are fine, I think there is some good acting and the effects we get are good. There is also some really bad acting and I wanted a bit more in the effects. The soundtrack I didn’t really notice, but I dug the song they sing to call out the frat and it does help with the Christmas vibe. I saw someone from the horror community saying that this is for 13 year old girls, which is fine, but I think that there’s a better way to present this for them as well as fans in general as well. This is below average unfortunately, but it is a shame, it could have been so much better.
My Rating: 4 out of 10