“Did you just ‘not all men’ me?” – Kris
1974’s slasher flick ‘Black Christmas‘ is a classically overlooked horror in which a group of sorority girls get stalked during the titular holiday period. When 2006’s unnecessary trashy remake got critically slammed, it was a big surprise when producer Jason Blum announced another remake to be in development with a more modern twist. Let’s just say, this version is nothing like the previous two and could easily have been released under an original title instead of relying on some sort of legacy the ’70s film has built throughout the decades.
Everything starts off with a pretty basic premise we’re all familiar with. 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. But as the trailer kind of spoiled to whomever watched it, there’s not just one killer, it’s most of the young men that are part of this fraternity as some sort of hazing ritual.
Vibrators for secret Santa and one too many threatening texts coming from the long gone Hawthorne college founder later, girls are being killed offscreen – because this film is being released in Australia with an M-rating – and thus no blood shall be spilled. Unlike some mysterious black goo that appears everywhere the stalkers pay a visit.
While Kris (Aleyse Shannon) pisses people, excuse me, boys, off by going around campus with a petition to fire professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) for his misogynistic literary choices in class, Riley (Imogen Poots) is dealing with her own personal demons. When the cause of all this revisits campus for the annual Christmas talent show, it’s up to Riley to face her fears and stand up for what’s right and call out the issues this school has been facing for far too long. With the help of her other sorority sisters Marty (Lily Donoghue) and Jess (Brittany O’Grady) she will have to fight off a horde of angry, blood thirsty, wannabe alphas and show this college how girls, I mean WOMEN, really fight.
Sophia Takal‘s (Always Shine) take on the slasher genre is both unique and ballsy. Blum producing a project with such a loud voice, is not only promising, but also shows that the big screen is a place for original stories to be told. The execution however is lacking something more. Takal and fellow screenwriter April Wolfe (Widower) have a lot to say and aren’t subtle about it, which is incredible in every way of the word. But Black Christmas doesn’t deliver on any other level. It promises a slasher survival film and what we get is a social commentary on white supremacist patriarchy and smart women fighting against racism and sexism. Hands down one of the strangest and empowering things you’ll see this year, yet it’s forgettable and mostly disappointing because there’s nothing else to support those important words. A missed opportunity in what could’ve made Black Christmas the new standard in horror filmmaking. The horror genre struggles as it is. If Takal and Wolfe gave the horror aspect of their story more attention, so it could be just as strong as its feminist standpoint, the film would’ve been that puppy under the Christmas tree you’ve always dreamt of.
It’s also important to note that this film shows how awful women are treated by men that don’t understand the issue of sexual assault, consent and concerns. Kris’ passion for equality in the film is engrossingly fascinating. It’s also Aleyse Shannon (Charmed) who surprises and jumps in front of lead actress Imogen Poots (I Kill Giants), to steal the spotlight, and deservedly so. She brings a natural charisma and dominating energy to her character, while everyone else is barely present to even care if they’ll make it to the end or not.
This “remake” would definitely have benefitted from an MA15-rating to amp everything up and raise the stakes. It’s all just a bit too tame for a film of this genre and although Takal’s efforts don’t go unnoticed, I sure hope she gets to direct and write something with just as much freedom as she clearly had on this project. Despite the absurdness of everything else that happens on screen, unfortunately Black Christmas is nothing more than a bag of coal on a sad Christmas morning.
Review – ‘Black Christmas’
Reviewed at Universal Pictures, Sydney, Dec. 3, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 92 min.
PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release of a Blumhouse Productions and Divide/Conquer production. Producers: Jason Blum, Ben Cosgrove. Executive producers: Greg Gilreath, Adam Hendricks, Zac Locke.
CREW: Director: Sophia Takal. Screenplay: Sophia Takal, April Wolfe. Camera (color, widescreen): Mark Schwartzbard. Editor: Jeff Betancourt. Music: Brooke Blair, Will Blair.
WITH: Imogen Poots, Cary Elwes, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Aleyse Shannon, Lucy Currey, Madeleine Adams, Simon Mead, Ben Black, Caleb Eberhardt.