The original Black Christmas, released in 1974, is a slasher movie that essentially boils down to a sorority being stalked, harassed, and killed off by a deranged killer during the Christmas holiday. It doesn't explore anything about the killer, really, or what's motivating the killings. This simplicity led to mixed reviews and eventual cult film status.
The 2019 remake--if you can call it a remake--is almost the exact opposite. The simplified plot is gone. Instead of a single deranged killer, there are many, and they're all being controlled by some supernatural force that manifests itself as toxic masculinity, leading those under its control to lash out at women who don't submit to men. The trailers hinted at this being more than a run-of-the-mill slasher movie, but Black Christmas takes that small tease into overdrive as it pits that toxic masculinity against women who are fed up with being considered less than their male counterparts.
The result is still a slasher movie, but one with no "final girl," a trope as old as the genre itself. Instead, there's a group of women fighting back against their would-be attackers as they see their friends and sisters dispatched by the faceless murderer. With a script co-written by April Wolfe and director Sophia Takal, this new take on Black Christmas deserves points for updating the story and giving the victims the power to take on the attackers.
What's more, it's doing it with some of the most graphic PG-13 horror you'll find. This is a movie that's had its gory scenes expertly edited to cut away at just the right millisecond to earn a friendlier MPAA rating, while still showing enough to make you wince at the violent deaths playing out on-screen.
What isn't as expertly done is the movie's treatment of toxic masculinity and feminism. There's one line of dialogue in particular, when a villain is asking a potential victim how much she wants her impending death to hurt. "Your body, your choice," he tells the woman. Turning that phrase around on a woman to ask how she wants to die does not land in the way the writers seem to have intended. It's delivered like a bad attempt at humor and takes a lot of the tension out of the scene. And there are other instances where buzzwords and phrases are tossed in--like "boys will be boys" or discussion of being an "alpha"--that don't add anything to the movie. They're just topical clichés thrown in at random.
As for the cast, the acting on display is decent at best. Some of the performances are over-the-top--like Cary Elwes as a misogynistic professor--while others just seem uninspired, like Imogen Poots as sorority sister Riley. The movie hints at a deeper backstory in which she's lost both of her parents. Instead of exploring that, though, her defining characteristic is that she was sexually assaulted sometime prior to the movie and is still reeling from it.
Is this new Black Christmas going to reach the cult status of the original? Probably not. From Midsommar to Us, Ready or Not to Happy Death Day 2U, 2019 has been a horror movie fan's dream year. Ultimately, while it’s a decent attempt at updating an old movie, Black Christmas will likely be forgotten before the year is out.
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