Directed by: Eli Roth
Premise: A masked killer dressed like a Pilgrim murders residents of Plymouth, Massachusetts on Thanksgiving. The survivors of a Black Friday riot are the main targets.
What Works: Thanksgiving has a terrific opening sequence. Events are set in motion when a midnight Black Friday sale devolves into a bloody riot. It’s chaotic and gory and the highlight of the film. The moviemakers commit to the Thanksgiving theme and there is an awful thoughtfulness to the way symbols of the holiday are integrated into the action. The film is set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the murderer dresses like a Pilgrim, and the picture works up to a gory holiday meal. Like most Eli Roth films, Thanksgiving is brutal but with a sense of humor. The gore effects are impressive and they have an element of physical comedy.
What Doesn’t: 2023’s Thanksgiving has its roots in the 2007 Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse which featured fake trailers that were intended to replicate the look of low budget exploitation pictures from the 1970s. (The 2010 film Machete and 2011’s Hobo with a Shotgun were also adapted from those trailers.) Unfortunately, Thanksgiving eschews the weathered and analog look of the original trailer in favor of the digital polish of a contemporary film. If anything, Thanksgiving recalls the torture films and slasher remakes from the mid-2000s and like a lot of those remakes Thanksgiving is not very scary. Eli Roth knows the horror genre in terms of its history and themes, especially the body horror era of the 1970s and 80s, but he doesn’t always demonstrate a great sense of why those films worked and how to make them scary. There’s not much tension in Thanksgiving. Scenes are not set up and drawn out in a way that escalates the tension. The gore is gross but it isn’t shocking or presented in a way that gets any reaction. Slasher movies are not renowned for their characters but the people in Thanksgiving are not even stereotypes. They are completely flat and bland. A lot of slasher films are murder mysteries but the whodunit of Thanksgiving is not interesting and the reveal is stupid. Like a lot of Eli Roth’s films, Thanksgiving has a satirical element but that’s lost after the fantastic opening sequence. The Black Friday satire is about ten years too late.
Bottom Line: Thanksgiving is ultimately rather bland. It isn’t nasty fun the way 1980s slasher films were nor does it have the audacity of the torture pictures of the 2000s. The story is unengaging and it all feels rather phoned in.
Episode: #975 (December 3, 2023)