Today’s horrors cannot be contained to shadowy figures. Jump scares are short-term frights, and flashing blood and guts are cheap thrills. When Jordan Peele’s Get Out blew our minds back in 2017, he reminded audiences about the clever directions the genre could go. And, of course, there were bound to be copycats, but it’s movies like Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas remake that remind us just how rare it is to pull off what Peele’s subversive eye did.
Despite its marketing, Black Christmas is no light-spirited, Christmas-themed slasher. It’s a headstrong entry into “woke” horror and armed with spite. It’s a curious, sour cup of eggnog added on the side of this holiday season’s packed table. It’s a chaotic and controversial mess that some will admire and others will spit right out.
The movie follows in the original 1974’s footsteps. The groundbreaking slasher was one of the first of its subgenre – yes, even before John Carpenter’s Halloween. The 45-year-old classic took clear aim at abortion rights just one year after the landmark Roe v. Wade case passed. It should then come as no surprise that the remake would tackle another timely woman’s issue head on. Unfortunately, it's too focused on being timely and skips out on stuffing it with enough horror treats.
Imogen Poots And The Cast Try Their Best With An Unpolished Script
Black Christmas stars the underrated Imogen Poots as a reserved sorority girl, Riley, who is planning take part behind the scenes in an act of resistance with her sisters at holiday festivities between the other frats and sororities. The movie eases its way into developing the personalities of the four core sisters. Aleyse Shannon plays Kris, a pushy stick-it-to-the-man type who is petitioning against Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes' antagonistic professor character, who only teaches white male authors in his class. Lily Donoghue’s Marty is a two-pack with her boyfriend, while Brittany O’Grady’s Jesse is the only “ditz” in the mix.
The first half of the movie plays more as a modern episode of a CW teen drama as Black Christmas sprinkles in its grand plan. Poots’ character is trying to pick up the pieces as a string of murders happen around the college campus. The women are harassed with misogynistic direct messages before being slashed. The dialogue has more than its share of cringey moments. The cast is trying really hard to make up for it, and it's only on occasion that good moments are produced.
Black Christmas Plays With ‘Slasher’ Tropes, Often To A Fault
The core weakness of Black Christmas is much of the filmmaking leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s not as scary as the fears being presented. There are long stretches of quiet moments without music to build the tension at the very least, and there’s too much exposition for it to ever really pay off. If you’d have told the audience it was an unfinished cut, many would take no issue with believing you. But the movie is set during the holiday season, and there are some well done moments that blend the visual aesthetic of Christmas into horror sequences. It's just not nearly enough.
That said, these sorority sisters pack a punch that thankfully have some weight to them. They’re not sexualized or damsels in distress. High school or college girls and horror have been explicitly tied to fetishized gore, but not this time. Yet, an R-rating instead of PG-13 may have helped out Black Christmas a bit. It’s unapologetic in terms of what it has to say, but it's devoid of key horror moments to properly match this. There’s an ounce of tension and then the scene just ends. And we really don’t care about them as much as we should. They still somehow feel disposable.
Sadly, Black Christmas Yells A Clever Concept Into A Void With Its Chaotic Execution
All and all, 2019’s Black Christmas will be remembered for its bold swings into Jordan Peele’s Get Out territory. It’s a rape victim redemption story, and that’s a gutsy place for a PG-13 holiday horror flick to go. Unfortunately, a story like this needs to be handled with care and strike a balance that Black Christmas just doesn’t have.
This Black Christmas isn’t afraid to get heavy-handed and preachy. There are hints of potential here to reflect an represent the modern woman, but overall this 2019 version has too many problems and feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a sometimes slick take-on of “boys will be boys,” frat hazing and societal dynamics between men and women of today. And Black Christmas has the right to be as angry as it is about the issue, but it’s not tactful enough with its message to have any impact on the audience – nor fun enough to be anything else.
Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.