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In Defense of 2019’s BLACK CHRISTMAS: Scary, Festive and Fun!

The 2019 Black Christmas remake currently sits at just a 38% Critic Score and 31% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes and its IMDB User Rating is (unfortunately) not much better– it has averaged a 3.3 rating out of 10. It’s box office performance was abysmal. Granted, with regard to both user metrics, part of that is no doubt on account of user review bombing whereupon ostensibly aggrieved audience members sank scores like it was Battleship because of the movie’s pro-feminist leanings. Even absent that infantile (and conceivably misogynistic) sabotage, however, the audience goodwill seems to be in considerably short supply for what I’d argue is a pretty compelling reinvention of a 46-year-old classic. Our own Jerry Smith agrees

Hawthorne College is quieting down for the holidays as students travel home to spend time with their families. But as Riley and her sorority sisters prepare to deck the halls with seasonal parties, a mysterious cloaked figure starts to leave a bloody trail throughout the campus. Refusing to become hapless victims, Riley and her friends decide to band together and fight back against the psychotic Christmas killer. 

2019’s Black Christmas is directed by Sophia Takal from a screenplay co-scribed by April Wolfe; the film stars Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, and Lily Donoghue.

I do think it does filmmakers a considerable disservice to defend or laud a piece of media strictly on account of the juvenile hacks whose affection for film is really just a gauzy cover for their own internalized misogyny and biases, the kind of audience that longs for the older days of cinema where “politics” weren’t imbued into the very spirit of cinema without any awareness of just how political their erstwhile favorites really were– Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter is coded with homoerotic subtext and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is about rebelling against antiquated values. There are some movies that the colloquial trolls attack that, for as wrong as their attacks are, really just aren’t good movies. I’ve always adhered to the idea, though, that people should speak loudly about what they love and keep quiet about what they don’t. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why more people aren’t speaking well about the Black Christmas remake. I acknowledge that the movie isn’t perfect. Entire threads are half-baked, and the finale reveal in particular– as well-intentioned as it is– is perfunctory at best and severely detrimental to the movie’s message at worst.

Fundamentally– all those elements considered– the worst that can be said of the (second) Black Christmas remake is that its accelerated production time is both visibly and narratively evident throughout most of the movie. The movie was announced in June 2019, wrapped filming in July, and was release-ready in time for the Christmas season in December of that year. Plenty of genre titles are rough around the edges, though, and in Black Christmas’s case, it isn’t enough to detract from the yuletide terror and tension on display.

What works in the movie works exceptionally well. As a piece of gateway media predicated on a horror classic nearly half-a-century-old, Black Christmas is both accessible to a younger audience and exactly the kind of cinematic springboard that might inspire them to seek out other genre titles. Thematically and tonally, too, the movie shares far more of the original’s DNA than the 2006 remake, and while that movie itself falls incredibly short of being a critical darling, the same degree of vitriolic criticism just doesn’t seem to be there. Fundamentally, though, Black Christmas has something meaningful to say. Where the movie does right by its feminist leanings is its acknowledgment of the systemic roots of misogyny and patriarchy both on college campuses and in the culture writ large. Some reviewers decried the messaging as t-shirt feminism, but just as the movie acts as a gateway for horror, it similarly operates as a gateway for feminism.

Yes, Kris Waterson (Aleyse Shannon) is a progressive caricature, but so are most movie characters, and both Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) and Marty Coolidge (Lily Donoghue) are worthwhile foils to her particular brand of justice that, in a weird, symbiotic way, all three emerge stronger for it, and the core argument is coded with some necessary nuance. Director Sophia Takal spoke at length about the film’s messaging and PG-13 rating, stating, “You know, this movie, even though it’s very, very loosely based on Black Christmas, I’d say the plot is extremely different. It’s more inspired by the feeling that Black Christmas made me feel watching it, this idea of misogyny always being out there and never totally eradicable. So that was the jumping-off point for how I came up with this plot.” The roots of the original truly are there albeit with a contemporary, more urgent spin.

Scenes at the police station or stalk-and-slash sequences in the girls’ sorority house highlight just how pernicious the roots of misogyny really are and how, even in the festive comforts of one’s own home, young women still aren’t really safe. If horror is curative and a function of horror is to interrogate and dissect the contemporary ails of society, then 2019’s Black Christmas is a sterling exemplar of genre as inquest. Like the star atop the Christmas tree, I can think of few other recent horror titles more likely to inspire necessary, sometimes difficult, conversations. Beyond that, the movie is successfully tense and visceral where it counts most. I wasn’t sure I needed it, or even wanted it, but Black Christmas is a gift I was happy to unwrap.

Black Christmas poster DC 1024x1521 - In Defense of 2019's BLACK CHRISTMAS: Scary, Festive and Fun!

Written by Chad Collins

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