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Review: Black Christmas (2019)

Black Christmas (2019)

Directed by: Sophia Takal

Premise: A remake of the 1974 film. Just before winter break, members of a sorority house stage a public protest against a fraternity whose members have been accused of sexual assault. The following night, the sorority sisters are stalked by a mysterious killer.

What Works: 2019’s Black Christmas is the third version of this story following the 1974 film, which is a classic, and the 2006 remake, which is not. Beyond the basics of its premise, the new Black Christmas has little to do with the other versions; the filmmakers have made a new story out of the old conceit. Black Christmas 2019 is a film for the Me Too era as it dramatizes the problem of sexual assault on college campuses while also roping in other social justice hot topics of recent years. The way the filmmakers tie together sexual assault, patriarchal curriculums, and campus traditions and power structures is quite smart and this film has something to say. Black Christmas is about young women sticking together to face down patriarchal threats and the moviemakers balance their political agenda with a focus on the characters. The three college students who lead this film are all distinct and actors Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, and Lily Donoghue are a likable trio. Poots’ character is a sexual assault survivor and many of the best scenes of the movie are not the scares but rather the dramatic moments in which these women address the hostile campus environment and what to do about it.

What Doesn’t: Black Christmas was originally written and shot to be an R-rated movie but it was reedited in post-production to achieve a PG-13. That becomes obvious in places. Some of the action and the reveals are edited clumsily to omit the graphic material. The main problem of the 2019 version of Black Christmas is that it just isn’t very scary. That’s not because the film is PG-13. There are plenty of scary films with ratings less than R. The problem is the execution. Much of the movie is lit and shot in a dull atmosphere-free style. Black Christmas is fundamentally a slasher story and so it is about the fear of being stalked but the filmmakers do not set up and execute the frights in a way that draws out the tension. The story incorporates a few twists. Unfortunately, a lot of these were let go in the trailer (and incidentally if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the whole movie). But even viewers who didn’t see the preview will probably anticipate every turn of the plot. Just like the political themes, everything in the story is spelled out for the viewer. Cary Elwes is cast in a supporting role as a humanities professor and Elwes plays him really broad, repurposing his absurd British accent from Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Elwes comes off out of sync with the rest of the movie. 

Bottom Line: The remake of Black Christmas isn’t very scary and it holds few surprises. In a few years it may be an interesting political artifact from this period of time but Black Christmas fails to offer the thrills and frights that draw viewers to horror films.

Episode: #781 (December 22, 2019)