Saturday, 21 December 2019

Black Christmas (2019) - Movie Review

The original Black Christmas is one of the classic slashers, a film that helped mould the genre into what it remains to this day. It even has the prestige of being a slasher that influenced another seminal classic in the genre with Halloween, both operating with the same type of inhumane beast as the killer. Black X-Mas, the 2006 remake, went so far in missing the point of what made the original work that it devolved into a movie about killers who were brother and sister as well as father and daughter. No information right into all kinds of TMI; it really says something when it came out in the midst of the U.S. remakes of Japanese horror movie craze, and it still stands as one of the most misguided remakes of its time.

The latest attempt to rejuvenate the original story hits an immediate problem with its rating. Of all the ways to describe the original, or even the 2006 butchering, ‘restrained’ isn’t one of them like it is here. In fairness, director Sophia Takal certainly knows her stuff in utilising the ‘less is more’ approach to horror. There’s showings of decent and slow build-up to the pay-off, a few Lewton Bus misdirection scares, even a cool scene involving motivated Christmas lighting. However, because it’s a little too apparent that it’s trying to squeeze into its broader rating, it ends up neutering a fair amount of the scares and the bigger points the script is trying to make.

Which is rather funny because the script is unchained in every way the visuals aren’t. Keeping in step with the more recent feminist revamps of older classics, this film brings a lot of rhetoric to the table. Too much of it, quite frankly. It puts me in a weird position where I’m basically asking for a movie not to yell at me because I already agree with most of what it has to say. There are occasions where it hits points of genuine inspiration, like the talent show ‘Up In The Frat House’ sequence that basically embodies this film’s entire methodology, but in far too many other points, it ends up bogged down in telling us about the ways of the patriarchy than it is with making the information sit comfortably within the film itself.

Of course, as has been the case with most of the recent distaff remakes, this film’s feminist bent wasn’t just pulled out of nowhere and Trojan horsed into a pre-existing feature. The original film is one of the best pro-choice genre flicks of all time, and when it didn’t feature Margot Kidder and co. being all kinds of watchable, it showed a mysterious man who wanted to exert so much control over the women around him that even their deaths were by his will. And what we get here is essentially a Suspiria-style DNA re-sequence of the original, as it takes the initial plot (a group of female college students are menaced and killed off one by one in their own sorority house by a shadowy murderer) and repurposes it to fit with modern times.

Said repurposing is pretty much the best thing about this film, as its examinations of gender power dynamics and abuse and gaslighting and other super fun topics along the same lines are definitely accurate. I mean, it’s safe to say that the most commonly-associated threat within U.S. colleges these days goes a bit further than just obscene phone calls. Even when it takes a Get Out-sized step into genre absurdism with its inclusion of black magic, it still works as a thematic extension to the notions of fraternal tradition and how that need to satiate the group ends up overriding the individual. It also serves as a good counterpoint to the relationship between the sorority sisters, where a similar preservationist mindset is at play, except they actually have reason to believe that they’re under threat.

I’ve seen too many films like this in 2019 alone. Not specifically on this topic necessarily, but films that put me in the awkward position of agreeing with the production on principle, but not in execution. There is a seriously great film in here somewhere, one that is able to wield its rating and its rhetoric equally and create a spooky and thoughtful ride. As is, though, it does far better at the latter than the former, and even then, it can get a little overbearing in too many places. The brutality of the violence and the subtlety of the messaging are the main reasons why the original works so damn well, and the attempt to pull off the exact opposite here isn’t nearly as effective.

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