Black Christmas Review: A lump of coal that doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit
When it was announced earlier this year that Blumhouse was not only making a remake of Bob Clark’s horror classic Black Christmas, but having it come out right in time for Christmas, I actually thought it was the perfect kind of horror movie to remake. The original film is seen as a classic in the horror community and while it got a gory good-time remake in the mid-2000s, I was really interested to see a new modern vision of the film from a relatively new director – Sophia Takal. The result is less of a remake and more of a reimagining, which is totally fine, that ends up being so focused on delivering an unflinching social message that it forgets to be scary.
Taking place at the fictional Hawthorne campus, the film follows Riley (Imogen Poots), a sorority girl that was raped by a member of the school’s most fraternity D.K.O. Still deeply violated by what happened to her, especially when she learns that the boy that she accused is back on campus for an event her sorority is participating in, she chooses not to participate in the event. However, after one of her sisters is unable to do the performance with the rest of the sorority, Riley steps in and makes D.K.O. mad at her, and her sorority, after she brings up the incident. Shortly after, Riley and her sorority sisters notice that they are being stalked by a mysterious group and find that it could be connected to D.K.O. dark history.
It was actually surprising to see Black Christmas take such a social-political turn with how it delves into toxic masculinity and college rape culture, but it wasn’t totally unwelcomed. Talks about rape culture is actually a pretty hot topic now in colleges and I haven’t seen many films talk about it, so it’s actually really cool to see Takal and fellow writer April Wolfe bring this topic to light. For the most part, it’s pretty well handled as Poots does a great job making viewers feel the internal pain that Riley is going through because of her rape incident. There’s a sense of fear that comes from Riley thinking and reexperiencing her rape when she sees her attacker, Brian Huntley (Ryan McIntyre), that comes off very real and even the discussion about no one believing added some strong context to Riley’s pain. Poot’s performance and Riley are probably the best parts of the film, but that’s probably because everything else with Black Christmas is either too heavy-handed or weak to be remotely enjoyable.
While I really do commend Takal and Wolfe for making their story very modern and unique with the social topics it covers, it comes off so heavy-handed at times that it takes away from the film’s main group. Outside of Riley, the other sorority sisters have little to nothing special about them and are mostly just used to promote the film’s heavy-handed messages that they don’t always commit to. For example, one of Riley’s sisters, Kris (Aleyse Shannon), is one of the biggest promoters of them standing up as women and fighting against the terrible men around them. We’re even introduced to her with her outside of their professor’s classroom to get him removed from the school because of his mostly heterosexual white male curriculum. However, even though she seems like the kind of person that would be against it, she’s more than fine to go up on stage with the rest of her sorority sisters, in what would be generally considered to be a slutty Santa outfit, and sing a sexually charged song. Don’t get me wrong, the moment eventually fits her when Riley changes their song to dig at the D.K.O.’s sexual assault history with her, but it’s partly what makes her character so confusing and a little annoying at times.
Sometimes she just so aggressive about making the other girls be on her side and hating against everything white-male related that it’s just hard to relate to her and she adds such a negative tone to the film that zaps away all of the energy. Not to mention, the moment I mentioned of her wanting to sing feels so out of character and no one challenge her contradictory views on this matter. Even in the moments where Riley and their friends challenge Kris on how aggressive she is, there’s just very little meaning that comes out of it. Well, at least Kris has some kind of character and personality because the rest of the cast is so incredibly generic and forgettable. Most of the other sorority girls are just there to up the body count and the rest of the male cast, except for two people, is impossible to even find appealing – but not in a fun way.
The entire male-cult antagonist that comes in the film is really bland, outside of the motivation explained for why they’re doing what they do as I thought it fit nicely with the film’s messages and felt relevant. Their look is boring, they’re not fun horror villains, and the script doesn’t do anything to make them unique or interesting – which says a lot when you have someone like Cary Elwes who can make anything interesting. Really, outside of Riley, the film itself is incredibly forgettable and even from a horror-perspective Black Christmas is truly like getting a lump of coal in your stocking.
The film is completely devoid of any tasteful scares and anytime it seems like Takal is setting up a shot filled with suspense and utilizes the environment; she just falls back on cheap jump scares. The kills are uninteresting, made even more uninteresting because of how much you don’t care about the characters, and it’s completely bloodless and lacks stakes to make the film anything more than a boring watch. Worst of all, the film barely attempts to reference or pay homage to either the original or remake that it’s named after. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why this is even called “Black Christmas” because it has both nothing to do really with Christmas nor anything to remind you of two, honestly, superior films.
It’s admirable to see Takal and Wolfe attempt to shed light on an important, under-discussed social topic, but Black Christmas crumbles under the weight of it like a poorly made gingerbread house. Even worse, it’s a terrible horror movie that’s only saved through the real-life horrors that well shown through a good performance from Poots. If you’re looking to get into the holiday cheer, steer clear of Black Christmas.