In 2019 America, we live in a time where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to say something significant about the world around you. With everybody shouting their opinions about everything on social media, we’ve hit a point where every bit of political commentary, from either side, has the same shrieking, deafening tone to it. And while a horror film with political themes sounds like something I would (should) absolutely love, I cannot find any possible way to recommend the new Black Christmas.
Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) is a college student who was sexually assaulted a year ago. She holds this pain with her, escalated by the fact that nobody believed her when she reported it. In the days leading up to her winter break from college, she and her friends begin to receive some suspicious DMs that lead everyone to believe a killer is on the loose, specifically threatening politically vocal female students on campus.
The first reason I wanted to like Black Christmas is that April Wolfe, a former film critic for The Wrap, co-wrote the film alongside director Sophia Takal. I used to read her reviews and look forward to her commentary when she would pop up on podcasts. I thought, for sure, Wolfe would know what a lousy horror script would look like, and would know to avoid those traps in a screenplay of her own, but I could not have been more wrong. This script echoes the wave of films that came after 2007’s Juno, that tried to mimic the hip-dialogue thing Diablo Cody won an Oscar for but failed miserably.
I also wanted to like Black Christmas because I’d never seen any previous iteration of this story. It’s a 1974 cult horror classic that inspired a 2006 remake, and now this new remake. It’s been my understanding this one is only a remake in name and genre, and kind of does its own thing. That’s another reason I thought this would be worth my time. When something is slavishly remade, it’s less interesting than when the filmmakers have something new and worthwhile to say.
Well, I was wrong. So wrong that it’s impossible to give any aspect of this movie the benefit of the doubt. Black Christmas constantly shouts buzzwords and catchphrases and never truly has anything to say. It’s an abysmal diet-horror misfire that will be a blemish on the resume of everyone involved. The characters in Black Christmas are glorified internet comments come to life, a Twitter argument projected on a 60-foot screen. Nobody ever talks to each other like human beings and everyone just seems to continually shout surface-level observations about what it’s like to be a young person in 2019 without ever really say anything truthful.
I could theoretically forgive this because a feminist take on a slasher movie should be right up my alley. What’s even more blatantly unforgivable are the horror-movie aspects of this. To avoid an R-rating, virtually every bloodless kill happens off-screen and you can tell exactly where they cut around to make the PG-13 rating happen. A horror film that’s organically PG-13 shouldn’t be a problem – Happy Death Day and its sequel are some of my favorite horror films in recent years, for instance. However, you can tell this film is sacrificing gore for its message, and it never really knows exactly what that message is.
Black Christmas wants to be a progressive horror film that teenage girls can put on every year and root for the characters they love. The leading group of girls has virtually no chemistry. You don’t feel the immediacy of important moments and you don’t really care when we get to the showdown at the end, because we don’t care what happens to these characters. Honestly, I couldn’t even remember most of their names by the end. There’s also a supernatural twist in the third act that renders the entire film absurd and pointless.
At the end, where we could have had an enlightening how-we-live-now horror film about the very real struggles of young women against the patriarchy, we have the cloying, empty and ridiculously heavy-handed disaster that is Black Christmas. Instead of going to watch this, I will recommend a similar and far superior film from last year – Assassination Nation, which is now streaming on Hulu. You’ll care about the characters, you’ll feel the immediacy of the stakes and you won’t be repeatedly beat over the head with the same ham-fisted message for 90 minutes. That film didn’t condescend to its female characters and turn them into parodies. It was powerful, funny and terrifying. It achieves the very specific movie-of-the-moment thing that Black Christmas aims for and misses entirely.