It was Friday the 13th, the second in 2019. This one happened to be in December, a time when traditional spooky season is on its way out, but the horror fans amongst us were rubbing our hands together both for warmth and in anticipation of holiday horror. Holiday horror has given us long-standing classics like Silent Night Deadly Night, and new favourites like Krampus, and this year, we were getting a wide cinema release of the second kick at the remake can, this lucky Friday in December, we got Black Christmas.
April Wolfe and Sophia Takal’s take on this classic slasher is anything but subtle. 1974’s Black Christmas wasn’t shy, either, in tackling women’s issues, creating fear out of the tendency of law enforcement to not take missing women seriously, out of their instinct to not believe women, creating fear out of controlling boyfriends and the right to choose, and now the latest take on this slasher giant brings women’s issues, new and old, to the 2019 audience.
Like the original, Black Christmas (2019) centers around a sorority, a house full of women preparing to take off for the winter break. After a sister doesn’t make it home one night, and another doesn’t seem to make it back for the holidays, the remaining women start to suspect something is wrong, a fear confirmed when they begin receiving haunting messages from an anonymous account disguised as the founder of their college. Again, like its predecessor, though this is the story of women evading a slasher, it’s about a lot more. Riley (Imogen Poots) is still wading through having been assaulted by a fraternity boy, having not been believed by the authorities or the perpetrator’s frat brothers. Kris (Aleyse Shannon) can barely spend a second not rallying for social justice, and is taking on the backward thinking Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) in her latest petition. The women are managing taking on the patriarchy while getting good grades and trying to let their hair down before the holidays.
Professor Geldon is a stand-in for the ‘mansplaining’ patriarchy, positioning himself as a forward-thinking classics professor, berating his students for assuming the worst of him, claiming the oversensitive masses are the reason for his newfound oppression. His brief sentiments feel all too familiar, and his arc will be no surprise to those who’ve ever conversed with an “it’s YOU who is the sexist one for assuming this was written by a man,” type.
Though sometimes palpable that what could have been an R rated slash fest became a PG-13 scary movie, the horror shots in the film are stunning. I actively wanted to pause the shots to gaze slightly longer at Imogen Poots lit in green and red while gripping a broken broom like a melee weapon. The film pays homage not only to its source material via billowing dry cleaning plastic and an attic trapped gal tied to a chair, it references a certain “best jump scare ever,” and features bow and arrow kills. The phone call bait and switch was my favourite of the throw-back references, and Kris laying on the couch reminiscent of Margot Kidder was a sweet tribute. This newest version does well to tip its hat to the creators that inspired their tale, despite taking a completely different course.
Though sometimes leaning a bit into a patronizing “on the nose” brand of feminism, Black Christmas (2019) is ultimately a fun take on the slasher for this generation. Pay no attention to those who feel isolated by the “not all men,” jokes because this movie isn’t for them. This movie is for us, the slasher fans who applaud a 1974 horror movie for taking on abortion rights, and who deserve to chant “women” at the screen no matter how camp the experience of it is. Using car keys was a brilliant nod to us female viewers all too familiar with the Wolverine key grab we employ any time we are walking alone at night and the female creators were never more obvious than when the keys were used not just by an uncomfortable victim, but as a kill weapon, and a plot point.
Not to be missed was the thread of women going with their gut and men with their brains. One of the more difficult to explain facets of the patriarchy is that the world has been set up by men, and certain sensibilities of women don’t belong. Riley mentioning this divide between gut and brain off the top sets off how the patriarchy fails the women throughout. Riley, feeling wrong about her missing roommates, visits campus police, who brush her off because “we need more than feelings.” A line that appears completely sensible in our world, but that we know results in the further deaths of women. “I knew she was dead. I felt it”
I can’t claim to have loved every takeaway, feeling a bit thrown by the “you should have always been fighting,” mentality of it all, (there is no right way to recover from sexual assault) though I applaud it for taking a huge, ahem, stab, at blatant on its face feminism, demanding action from all of us. Though the third act has been lambasted for its jarring twist, the move certainly took vulva, and allows the characters to explore the concept that women are often asked to cater to the patriarchy or die, and then in some cases, both. Again, there is nothing subtle about this movie, and forcing characters to face an impossible choice, then suggesting it was never their choice to make, is a scathing indictment of our world wrapped up in a single scene with a Christmas bow. It’s lack of subtly is sometimes its strength, forcing us to stare down the barrel of the oppression of the patriarchy and demanding we band together to fight it.
While I didn’t cheer at every moment, or buy into every pandering feminist anthem slapped into each scene, I had a great time, and I sense the divide to be suggestive of pending cult status.