Black Christmas, 2019.
Directed by Sophia Takal.
Starring Imogen Poots, Cary Elwes, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Aleyse Shannon, Lucy Currey, Madeleine Adams, Ben Black, Simon Mead, and Caleb Eberhardt.
A group of female students are stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break. That is until the young sorority pledges discover that the killer is part of an underground college conspiracy.
The body count surrounding Hawthorne College’s is slowly but surely piling up, yet murder and creepy cyberstalking appears to be at the bottom of Black Christmas priorities. This second remake (directed and co-written by Sophia Takal, who already has acting and filmmaking horror credentials under her belt from Always Shine) is rooted in feminism, but there’s a catch. It’s executed to such an aggressively offputting degree that when one character reassesses the situation and says “now you’re just passing them off”, it’s hard not to feel like the film is having the same effect on the viewer.
Movies are not consumed and written about in a bubble. With that said, it’s intriguing to note that there was no Chicago press screening of Black Christmas (or many in general around the world to my knowledge), which is normally a red flag for quality. Now, Black Christmas is by no stretch of the imagination a movie emitting such a foul stench that Universal/Bluhmhouse should be embarrassed to advertise and promote such a thing, but it doubles, hell, quadruples down and leftist identity politics, social issues, rape trauma, Me Too, all to a point where nothing about the narrative resembles a human story containing characters you want to understand and empathize with.
It’s actually the opposite; a Twitter user’s wet dream that takes nearly every possible second of its running time to promote these ideals while bashing men (specifically white, because that’s the kind of movie this is) and the patriarchy, which is fine. There are many powerful white men in towering positions abusing that status, equality gaps are a very real thing, and for the most part, I generally agree with the outline of those left-leaning beliefs, but how something is presented goes a long way towards making the realization of that story effective and resonant. Black Christmas goes about these sensitive topics with the force of a jackhammer, oftentimes stopping in its tracks to focus on pointless activism that doesn’t even matter. The point is that Black Christmas probably was not screened for press in most areas because I can’t imagine any general audience accompanying critics alongside a promotional screening coming away with any positive word-of-mouth. It’s the kind of leftist bludgeon that drives people up a wall and forces them to go do stupid shit in retaliation like voting for Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.
Also, if that comment pisses you off, take a look at the box office numbers over the weekend and see if anyone really wanted to support a film that wants to divide people, make light of real-world issues (this is somewhat a common occurrence with Blumhouse movies, but never to this extent of distaste), and facilitate the wrongheaded concept of female empowerment by taking down men. There’s nothing wrong with combining horror and political/social commentary, but this is a political movie that takes the fun parts of slashers and places them into the background for the majority, only to strip away their inherent entertainment value during the climax when it becomes the central focus.
Ranting aside, Imogen Poots is Riley, a sexual assault survivor that is struggling to come back to life, in a sense. No one believed her when she made accusations public (aside from a small circle of sorority friends), her abuser is walking around campus free, and she seems to prefer being invisible in the wake of this upsetting tragedy rather than energetically pursue her goals or stand alongside her political activist friends. That part of the narrative is actually fine, as Imogen Poots is taking the character seriously and delivering one of the better performances of the entire subgenre (there’s a great cabaret number that her friends pressure to participate in, attacking frat house mentality), whereas Sophia Takal and co-writer April Wolfe are clearly in tune to the thought processes and reactions to women in these situations.
The problem is that Cary Elwes is also running around as a professor angry that he’s about to be fired for diversity reasons or some nonsense (it’s all treated at surface level which is part of why the material does come across badly), the rapist jock is smugly getting under the skin of Riley, a socially awkward nerdy young black man walks the line between well-meaning or potential incel undercover going on a murderous rampage, and generally every white male character is making an ass of themselves. It all becomes exhausting not even 30 minutes in. Maybe there is a mystery, though? Black Christmas definitely sets up possibilities but also decides to run with the most obvious scenario that is something so direct, that in the moment it feels like overt misdirection. From there, the third act gets progressively ridiculous and less intimate to the core characters in an attempt to say something grander about sisterhood, but really just makes an even bigger mess out of the story.
The real cardinal sin is that Black Christmas is also a bloodless slasher endeavor with no creativity towards a single kill. Around half of them occur offscreen. So in the end, we have a slasher movie that sacrifices everything engaging about the sub-genre to wildly fudge up the presentation of a mountain of social and political issues. Oddly enough, the standard clichés of terrible decision-making and clumsy getaways remain intact. All of this in the movie that *checks notes* references a historical quote regarding the intuition of women.
It’s all unfortunate considering the concept of a feminist Black Christmas is actually quite tantalizing, but this a dismal offering. Sophia Takal is by no means a bad filmmaker (I really wanted to cheer on a feminist take of slasher horror), it’s more that Black Christmas is such a labor of love brimming with ideas that they all overflow and cancel each other out into a cinematic black sludge of disappointment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com