Monday, June 15, 2020

All I Want For Christmas Is An End to the Patriarchy

Bob Clark's Black Christmas is a true genre classic, a film that I love more deeply every time I watch it. From the glory of buzzed Margot Kidder taking no crap to Olivia Hussey unapologetically planning an abortion, it's filled with wonderful women and some darn effective horror storytelling. 

It was remade as a fairly of-its-time hard-R in 2008, much to the outrage of the horror community and whaddya know! Nine years later, history repeated itself, only this time, there was an added political punch. Not only was this version made BY women, but it also had the nerve to empower them in a battle against the patriarchy.

Internet boys were mad.

Quick Plot: Welcome to Hawthorne College, a private 200 year old university with a problematic namesake and a very attractive student body.  We start just before the winter break, when sorority girl Lindsay is stabbed to death by a mysterious masked man wielding an icicle. 

The next day, Riley and her sisters begin receiving ominous text messages that seem like a bad prank. No one is surprised, since Riley had previously riled a fraternity's featthers when she accused its president of rape. Her sisters stood by her, while campus security brushed it under the rug. With the encouragement of her activist pal Kris, Riley decides to serve up some sweet vengeance by publicly calling out the college's rape culture via a Mean Girls-ish flirty Christmas number at the greek talent show.

Naturally, the boys don't take it very well, but are they angry enough to embark upon a winter break massacre? 

It's hard to go too deep into Black Christmas without giving away key plot points, so spoilers will follow. If you haven't seen the film, pause here and do so. Yes, I'm in the camp of celebrating this movie, both for its politics and execution. Say what you want: I liked it.

So obviously, yes, yes these spoiled rich white boys are murdering women who scare them because much like the Reptile Boy episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, their secret cult is founded on male toxicity. The metaphor isn't subtle, but's horror. 

Black Christmas marked the first time Blumhouse produced a female-directed horror film, something so ridiculous to have to write in 2020. Cowriters Sophia Takal (also directing) and April Wolfe clearly approached the material with ambitious goals about calling out the patriarchy and empowering women, and you know what? YES PLEASE.

Look, I know there are A LOT of horror fans, both male and female (but let's face it: mostly male) who despised 2019's Black Christmas. Most of them also hated the 2008 remake when it came out, even though they have no memory of that and will gleefully tell you how much better that version is than Takal's. 

Does Black Christmas have an agenda? Of course it does. The fact that our protagonists' most important weapon is often a set of car kids should tell you a lot, and if you don't understand, then aren't you lucky.

I loved watching this movie. I enjoyed its twists, cared deeply for its protagonists, and found myself generally both excited and involved. Its staging won't give me nightmares, but its Stepford Wives-ish undertones certainly will. 

Give me more movies like this. 

High Points
Imogen Poots brings such a strong, deep well to Riley, managing to project so much carefully buried trauma. The scene where she tries to ask the head of campus security for help while having to SMILE through battling off his accusations is something truly remarkable, and one that almost any woman watching is going to feel as a gut punch for every time she's had to make her point while keeping her rightful anger under the surface

Low Points
I have no issue with PG-13 horror (and in more recent years, have come to fully embrace it when done well) but I'll concede that some of the violence feels muted or cut in a way that does detract from its effectiveness

Lessons Learned
The only way to lose a Diva Cup is with abandon

Every holiday is for looking sexy

Topple all the statues

Is Black Christmas a great horror movie? No. Is it a clever, entertaining, and fresh take on the genre filled with good satire from the kind of voice we need more of? Absolutely. 


  1. I wasn't much interested in seeing this... I love the original, didn't like the remake and... I dunno... the poster for this one didn't grab me.
    But I by now I trust in your taste... meaning I think I can read through you whether I'd like something or not.
    So I watched it and... hey, I really enjoyed it.
    As soon as I got that it wasn't a direct remake except with ninja women, I was into it. Lots of clever call-outs to the original but doing its own thing.
    I really do not like 'preachy' movies but this didn't push that button for me at all.
    It also wasn't very scary... but I didn't find myself wanting it to be. I didn't need more gore either.

    It did made me wish Margo Kidder could have been around to have a cameo and get some payback.

    1. Yay! So glad to hear you enjoyed it. And seriously, some drunken Margot Kidder could have KILLED

    2. Margo could have played the drunken house mother (another fave character in the original).

  2. This one actually surprised me and I really liked it even though I'm not the target audience. It does have a distinct feminist message but it weaves it into the narrative quite cleverly without being overly preachy. I mean, taking 'toxic masculinity' pretty much literal was an awesome idea.
    I actually liked that Takal even criticizes other feminists (at least that's what I took away from the film): Riley's uber-feminist friend was super annoying and wasn't painted as a very sympathetic character (and a coward).
    I would have liked it if she had at least included one decent male character though. I guess Riley's love interest is supposed to be one but he is such an afterthought he doesn't really count.
    I agree that the violence seems cut (and Takal even confirmed it before the film was released because she demanded it herself) and some of the kill scenes feel very awkward because of it.
    There's one thing this and other 'message horror movies' like Get Out have in common: They are not very scary. I would even argue that Get Out is a horror film at all. That's why it always baffles me when I see it on 'The scariest films of all times' lists.

    All in all this is a solid film that entertained me and just leaves one question: Why the hell is Imogen Poots not a big star already?

    1. Seriously! Poots is INCREDIBLE!

      I do think her love interest was meant to be there as a "not all men" concession. In many ways, he's totally unnecessary to the story, so I would gather the filmmakers actively included him to throw that bone. He doesn't get much to do, although tthere's an alternate ending wherein he's shown still dripping some of the black goo after they've taken down the frat, which I suppose is meant to keep the cycle going.

      It's a really good point about social horror missing the actual horror spot. Here's hoping Nia Decosta's Candyman helps to combine both!

    2. I have to admit, the trailer for the new Candyman movie looks pretty cool (and like a 'real' horror movie) so I keep my fingers crossed.