Directed by Sophia Takal, the 2019 version of BLACK CHRISTMAS has a clear task. That task is presumably controversial, as many a viewer was allegedly triggered by the “feminism” prowling within. This film is guided by feminism, the sort of thing sure to offend some of the pill-popping typecasts that call themselves horror fans.
But for those inclined to form less reactionary opinions, it’s hard to say this BLACK CHRISTMAS makes enough of a dent to upset. Despite its heart being in the right place, the execution is clumsy and pedestrian. It is an exceptionally minor horror offering, far from the man-hating offence machine it’s characterized as by indignant buffoons in comment sections.
The students at Hawthorne College are getting ready for Christmas break. Someone is killed and Riley (Imogen Poots) is struggling with the anguish of being raped by frat president Brian (Ryan McIntyre). After a talent show presents an opportunity to get a measure of revenge via musical number, Riley and her sorority sisters draw the ire of the frat.
Soon, there are more murders and sorority sisters are turning up dead. The sinister Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) is no help, especially as his misogynistic habits influence the young men on campus. As the bodies pile up, Riley and Co. unearth the truth behind the frat and the toxic masculinity seeping within.
BLACK CHRISTMAS is very, very obvious when it comes to its messaging. This is a film without nuance, as almost every piece of dialogue reads like it’s from someone’s Twitter feed. The screenplay by Takal and April Wolfe nets a perfect “social justice” bingo, but there’s an absence of depth to support the breadth of buzzy ideas.
The best scenes involve Riley trying to come to terms with her rape and addressing the musical number and its fallout with her sisters. Poots brings intensity and pragmatism to the table, showing critical range when she alters the Christmas number and turns it into a searing denunciation of the bros in her midst. But far from a celebratory victory, the song is vulnerable vengeance.
At the core of Riley’s arc is the abstract concept of redemption in a world run by dogmatic Delta Kappa Omicron overlords. This indictment of poisonous cultural touchstones is underscored by the professor’s bombastic assertions and the powerlessness experienced by women on campus. They are really and truly on their own, so they must take up arms against their oppressors.
Unfortunately, BLACK CHRISTMAS lacks fire. The lack of grisly payoff is explicable given an appeal to a wider audience, but the weaknesses are clear. More impactful scenes are slashed before they settle and the absence of fear is frustrating. The noxiousness excavated by Riley and her sisters is as unsatisfying as it is comical, a damn shame considering what’s on the line.