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Black Christmas (2019)


BLack Christmas

This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women

I remember when this Black Christmas remake was released last year, film twitter was a frenzy of opinions. Sophia Takal's film has a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes currently, so I think the consensus is pretty bad. There were so many tweets dragging the film saying it was self-consciously woke; others defended its feminist merits. I haven't seen the original 1974 film, but a quick search reveals that that film is generally regarded as a groundbreaking slasher. Unfortunately, it was directed by a person with XY chromosomes, so I won't be discussing it here.

Black Christmas isn't...a great movie, but it's worth watching, I think. What it has going for it is a great lead performance from Imogen Poots. Poots plays a college student living in a huge house with her sorority sisters. The sisters are generally a pretty "woke" bunch and it's hard not to notice all the 2010s-era virtue signaling in the first half hour or so. They really want you to know that these women are wearing diva cups and pithy tees that say "your monologue is boring me." Pandering or not, it's refreshing to watch women being smart, creative, and generally supportive of one another. 
Black Christmas

Before all of this, though, there's a quick little murder, to you know, set the mood. It's here the benefits of a holiday-themed horror are revealed: dangling icicles and huge, animatronic teddy bears make for an eerie backdrop to a murder. The film's first victim receives a few ominous texts as she walks the snow-covered streets back to her dorm. Suddenly, there's a cloaked figure stalking her and...well, let's just say you won't be able to see snow angels the same way again.

I want to highlight this first kill only to contrast it with the rest of the film's scenes of violence. Yep, there's plenty of death in Black Christmas, but I don't think Takal takes advantage of those holiday motifs nearly enough. The scares in this movie lack a unique, defined vision. They're derivative and generic, thus forgettable. People go missing here and there, but when the killer finally reveals himself to Poots and a few other girls in the house, the combination of his cloak-and-mask visage and the sorority house backdrop make me think of Scream. I don't want to be thinking about an iconic 90s horror movie, though. I want this holiday-themed horror movie to give me holiday-themed horror. Black Christmas suffers from a lack of Christmas spirit.

Our killer takes his victims out in mind-numbingly boring ways that seem as though they'd fit better in a more generic slasher. What I'm saying is, no one gets wrapped in Christmas lights and electrocuted. No one gets thrown down a chimney and set on fire. I mean, why make a Christmas-themed movie and not have fun with the language of the holiday? Just take it all the way there with the theme and make the kills as kitschy as the decor. Lean in, bitch! If you could point to one overarching weakness to the film, I think this is it. I really don't think the film is that bad, it simply doesn't declare itself boldly enough. Instead of standing out, it's clouded by too many scenes that remind me of other, better movies.

For example, there's a key scene at the beginning of the film where a few of the girls decide to make a statement at a popular frat's talent show. Poots and a few of her sisters are dolled up in matching Santa Claus hats and red mini-dresses, a la that iconic scene in Mean Girls. They deliver a killer rendition of a popular Christmas song, the lyrics changed to directly address the toxic rape culture present at the school. For how on-the-nose the song and dance is, the scene still manages to strike a powerful chord. It does a great job at showcasing the film's central thematic concerns. Still, I wish Takal had come up with another way, visually, to deliver this message. By the end of the performance, all I wanted to do was open YouTube in another tab and watch that scene from Mean Girls.

Black Christmas simply feels too generic to be anything but average. It's feminist takes feel like a series of semi-coherent tweets, and the horror elements aren't unique or dynamic enough to make it stand out as memorable slasher movie. The film's climax has very little impact for the same reason: we've seen this sort of imagery before and we've seen it done better. Still, I really do think this movie is worth watching. It's firmly rooted in our current moment. It's themes of female empowerment are timeless, but the language around those themes is so specific to this #metoo era.

Fast forward 20 years from now and this movie will, if nothing else, stand out as a testament of a very specific cultural moment. Despite its well-trodden visual motifs, it still manages to make a statement about the times we're living in right now. Sure, there are plenty of better films exploring toxic masculinity and female empowerment. But Black Christmas has managed, in it's own clunky, derivative way, to capture how we talk about those topics right now. For better or worse, this is the mainstream Christmas-themed horror we deserve.
Black Christmas