Let me start on this note: I wholeheartedly believe that toxic masculinity, rape culture, and sexism are huge issues in our society that negatively impact everyone. As I wrote in my review of the original Black Christmas and initial impressions of this reboot last week, I was skeptical a major studio reboot of a well-regarded horror classic could deliver a nuanced depiction of the issues it seemed to want to address. I am disappointed to say I was right.
I will be sharing my initial impressions of the film in spoilerrific detail below, so please stop reading if you don’t want to read about key plot points and reveals.
This film’s greatest downfall isn’t its message as many review bombers would have you believe. Its heart is in the right place. But its execution is extremely heavy-handed and replete with tropes. When the dialogue isn’t sharp and clever (and it really is in some parts), the characters parrot talking points you would read in a comments thread on Facebook or Twitter. It would be so easy to just go a little bit deeper and have a character say “this is why I feel this way. Let me give you an example…”. Instead, the characters shout things like “not all men!” and storm out on one another. The villains are cartoonishly evil, and even the good characters such as Kris and Landon are caricatures of an activist and a kind guy respectively.
Perhaps the greatest example of the failed potential of this film is during the fraternity’s “talent show.” The most established fraternity on campus hosts a comical talent show at the end of fall break. We are led to believe the main characters are about to do a sexy Christmas themed song and dance ala Mean Girls. The sisters start their routine, which begins as a suggestive rewrite of “Up on the Housetop” about being eager to be at the fraternity house to have sex. It then switches into lyrics about being sexually assaulted, much to the shock and surprise of the fraternity. But this is where it gets weird. The other women in the audience start loudly cheering and clapping at the lyrics about being sexually assaulted while the frat guys start booing like its a playful joke. One of the lyrics actually says “you slipped me a roofie and your dick.” There’s a very cringe feeling of “girls rule boys drool!” going on while addressing an incredibly serious topic. At the end of the performance, our main protagonist Riley says “maybe that will teach Brian Huntley not to rape women!” and the sisters triumphantly run out of the fraternity to go celebrate their victory.
This scene’s tone feels incredibly off. It feels like its treating date rape perpetrated by this fraternity as a known fact that is amusing. I think this scene could have been reworked to be more effective. It could start the same way, but after the flirtatious introduction the music would cut out and Riley could say something like, “Three years ago I was raped by Brian Huntley. What you did will haunt me the rest of my life. I hope that’s the song and dance you were all hoping for,” and walked out to the sounds of shocked gasps and microphone feedback. That would have better fit the tone I feel the movie was trying to go for.
As for the trailer that seemed to spoil everything…it basically did. If you have hope there is more to this film than its ridiculously revealing trailer, I can tell you there is something that’s a little neat but doesn’t salvage how much the trailer gives away.
So obviously I just railed against some aspects of this film, but do not get me wrong. There are things I really enjoyed about this movie. Despite how poorly I believe it conveys its message, I appreciate that it tried to incorporate an important political message in the film. Films like Get Out and Don’t Breathe show this can be done in nuanced ways, and I hope that we do see more horror films tackling tough issues. I do think the extremely abbreviated production timeline is partially to blame for how heavy-handed this film is. In the interview with Collider I just linked to, Sophia Takal mentions being offered the film at the beginning of 2019 with no script, and being told it had to be filmed in summer to be released by December 2019.
This film has an interesting theme about the influence of group dynamics on an individual. It shows the ways a group can either nurture and strengthen OR poison and corrupt new members. The main killers are revealed to be fraternity pledges who have been infected with black magic during a hazing ritual that brings out their most primal, violent urges (it reminded me of the Masters of Horror episode “The Screwfly Solution”). There is strength in numbers in both the sororities and fraternities of this film, but as the film makes clear, not all groups are inherently good.
Other key elements I enjoyed:
- There is a genuine love and fondness depicted in the female friendships in this film that’s refreshingly realistic to see. If the arguments were written as well as some of the character-building throwaway dialogue this would be a much better film.
- I also enjoy how much character building they do. You really get to know the characters and their dynamic before the main characters are put in serious peril.
- This movie takes its time getting to the key moments of suspense for the main characters, and deliver on those moments pretty effectively. There’s a nice, quiet tension when the killer approaches one of the characters, proving how shocking and unsettling it would be to see a masked, armed person walk into a room towards you.
- I REALLY enjoyed the camera work. The camera moves around in an almost restless way in many scenes, and some of the shots reminded me of 70s films such as the original Black Christmas.
- There is a fantastic jump scare that is a clear nod to The Exorcist III. It is one of the only jump scares not spoiled by the trailer which revealed way too much about this film.
- The main actress Imogen Poots is outstanding as Riley Stone. She is really captivating, and conveys a great emotional depth and range.
- The twist that one of the sorority sisters has been secretly helping the fraternity the whole time, revealing her to be a high key “Pick Me/I’m Not Like Other Girls” girl.
- I know I’m getting old when a movie shows us an app and I’m not sure if it’s a real app or something the movie made up. Is YipYap real? Am I real?
- My friend and I went to an Arclight theater to see the movie. Much to my (not) shock, I was the first to purchase tickets for this particular showing online. There were also a grand total of about 8 other people in the theater at about 8pm on opening Friday so the proof is in the pudding this film is not going to be breaking any box office records.
- During the mid-credits scene I shouted “you better not tank this movie by hurting that cat!” which seemed to get a chuckle from the only other woman in the audience besides us
- 13 years ago I went with friends to see the 2006 Black Christmas, and it was very exciting to go to see yet another reboot in 2019 even if I wasn’t thrilled with it. It does give me hope that perhaps there will be more thoughtful reboots of slasher films in our future. One can only hope…
This is a new format for my blog that I imagine will be pretty rare. I plan to only share initial impressions if I feel strongly about a movie out the gate, but a lot of times my opinion shifts over time as my thoughts settle. I will definitely revisit this movie down the road, so if my feeling shift on it I might do a Revisiting post on it.
Till next week!