Reader Request Mini-Review – Black Christmas (2019): How To Not Make a Progressive Horror Film

I finally got around to watching the not-remake of the original slasher film and it tries to update horror films, but it just doesn’t quite pull it off.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS!!!!)

It’s approaching Christmas and Hawthorne College is about to go on break. Sorority girl Lindsey (Lucy Currey) is murdered by a group of masked figures after getting threatening messages from an account with the name of the founder of the College, Calvin Hawthorne. Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) is a member of Mu Kappa Epsilon who was recently raped by Alpha Kappa Omicron fraternity president Brian Huntley (Ryan McIntyre). Unfortunately, no one believes her aside from her closest friends. She meets Landon (Caleb Eberheart), an AKO member who seems to like her. Riley and her sorority sisters Kris, Marty, and Jesse (Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady) perform a skit at the AKO frat about Riley’s rape which angers the members. While in the Frat House, Riley encounters the brothers performing a strange ritual involving a bust of Calvin Hawthorne which Kris had recently forced the University to move from the main building due to Hawthorne’s racism and misogyny. 

BlackChristmas - 1Angel
Lindsey’s snow angel as she’s made a literal angel. 

Back at the MKE house, Lindsey’s killers abduct MKE sister Helena (Madeleine Adams). The next day, the sisters start getting texts from the same account that was messaging Lindsey and one, Fran (Nathalie Morris), is murdered. Riley tries to report the disappearances, but the security officers ignore her. She also has a strange encounter with Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes), whom Kris tried to have fired for his misogyny. Jesse is murdered and Riley, Kris, and Marty are attacked by a masked archer and two other assailants. Marty is killed, but the other two kill one of the attackers, who bleeds black goo. Riley identifies him as an AKO member. 

BlackChristmas - 2Bow
Ah yes, the traditional Christmas archery.

Riley and Kris leave the house and Riley heads to the frat to try and fight the brothers, who she believes are possessed by the spirit of Calvin Hawthorne. She encounters Landon and he comes with her while Kris heads to Lindsey’s sorority, which is also being attacked. Kris rescues the other girls as Riley and Landon get to the frat house. Riley finds Helena, but gets knocked out while Landon is “inducted” into the frat. She awakens tied to a chair and it’s shown that Gelson has been leading the AKO boys as part of a scheme by Calvin Hawthorne to keep “unruly women” in check. His bust spits black goo that allows Gelson to control the pledges and use them to murder rebellious women. Some women, including Helena, have secretly been helping them, but Helena is murdered anyway. Riley is saved by the arrival of Kris and the other sorority girls who attack the frat guys. Riley kills Brian, her rapist, and Kris sets Gelson on fire. Landon and the girls escape, locking the Frat brothers in with the fire, killing them. 

END SUMMARY

First, this is not a remake of Black Christmas, the 1974 film which is typically considered one of the first “slasher” movies, in anything but name. Yes, it involves killing sorority girls, but so does almost every 80s horror film, and I don’t consider those to be remakes of Sorority House Massacre. On the other hand, Silent Night, Deadly Night is already a horror series, so I guess we’re out of names. It doesn’t help that basically nothing in the movie requires that it be set at Christmas aside from name recognition.

BlackChristmas - 4Group
And an excuse for a subversion of a sexy Christmas girl image.

I’m a big fan of using horror as a metaphor for real-life issues, because I think that’s something that horror can do well and I think it’s actually helpful for people to envision their problems as monsters because monsters can be dealt with and it gives hope that problems can as well. This movie messes but by not really coming up with a solid metaphor, and the one that it comes up with does the opposite of what it should. 

BlackChristmas - 5Sisters
This scene came off as less “empowering” and more “deus ex machina” to me, but I admit to bias.

To its credit, the film is trying to address a real issue by talking about rape culture on college campuses. Since that kind of subject matter can make for a challenging and interesting horror movie and can really be done well via a dozen different metaphors, it’s perfect for a female-led cast and crew who can hopefully flesh it out. Unfortunately, while the movie had a great opportunity to do just that, it had three big flaws. The first is that, aside from the opening scene, it didn’t tie the vulnerability of women on campuses in well with the horror elements. Women are constantly put in a position of having to feel like they need to take extra precaution to avoid regular attackers, so expanding that to the slashers has been done regularly over the years and could have been done better here. Second, it just wasn’t that scary. Not that horror movies need to be constantly terrifying, but there was barely any tension in much of this movie because of the pacing. It was either all go on the horror or all go on the subplots, rarely were they blended at all. Third, and most importantly, the ending ruins everything. 

BlackChristmas - 6Mask
Ah yes, the traditional Christmas… masks?

See, the supernatural element really wrecks the potential metaphor and also the narrative, because if the frat brothers were all just possessed by an evil spirit, then they aren’t culpable. I mean, Brian is, because he wasn’t possessed when he raped Riley and Gelson is, because he is the one facilitating the brainwashing, but since Landon could be immediately swayed to do the Frat’s bidding against his will, then so could any of the frat brothers. At the end of the movie, they could have locked in a room full of potentially innocent people to burn to their deaths. What’s most horrible about this is that it was so unnecessary. You could have had a frat that just breaks its members down until they’re obedient cult members or just had a group of ultra-misogynists or even had a group of abusers who actually have supernatural powers, but instead the film effectively burns a group of people to death right after pointing out that they might not have been culpable. It just didn’t need to be that way.

BlackChristmas - 3Bust
Also, the weeping goo bust was a weird way to do it.

In defense of the movie, much of it is pretty good, and Imogen Poots and Aleyse Shannon both were amazing in their roles. The dialogue was above-average for this kind of horror film and the direction was, usually, very creative and effective. It’s just that it never all came together. Also, again, it really didn’t need to take place at Christmas at all, except to try and cash in on the classic film. In retrospect, I guess the original didn’t have to take place at Christmas either, although it at least kept using Christmas stuff in the killings. 

Overall, I just don’t recommend it. I hope that the team gets more work, because it’s close to succeeding, but it just didn’t feel right this time.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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