I originally went to see “Black Christmas” because I’d heard some showings had a teaser trailer for “A Quiet Place 2” before them.
I absolutely adored 2018’s “A Quiet Place” starring John Krasinksi and Emily Blunt. It was heartfelt, terrifying and brilliant. I can’t wait to see March’s sequel.
So, of course, the teaser didn’t show, which meant “Black Christmas” not only needed to stand on its own merits but also be impressive enough I didn’t mind the letdown of a Krasinski-less outing.
As a horror film, “Black Christmas” isn’t really terrifying. It’s not gory, and it’s not overly violent. The movie is only rated PG-13, and most deaths happen off-screen with any visible blood loss kept to a minimum. Even the jump scares weren’t that numerous.
No, “Black Christmas” wasn’t overtly scary, but that’s not to say it wasn’t overtly something.
The film is the third version of 1974’s “Black Christmas.” The original film starred Olivia Hussey and focused on a sorority house stalked by a vicious killer. The film was revamped in 2006 and starred Katie Cassidy (“Arrow”), Michelle Trachtenberg (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five” and “Mean Girls”). Again, sorority sisters are murdered one by one.
The 2019 version again focuses on a sorority house, but the plot is much bigger than sisters being slaughtered. Imogen Poots stars as Riley, a Mu Kappa Epsilon sister who was raped a couple of years ago and still carries the emotional scars of the assault. She accused a popular fraternity leader and wasn’t believed by anyone in authority, but her sisters put a spotlight on it during a holiday party skit.
The sorority sheds light on the assault during a holiday party during an incredibly clever rewrite of “Up on the Housetop” that includes such delightful lyrics like “Up in the house, things went down, and I’m telling everyone in town. Didn’t lead you on for goodness’ sake. Couldn’t have cause I was not awake.”
Shortly after the sisters do their number, sorority members begin disappearing. A lot is left up to the imagination in this film, but there are plenty of suspects.
Could it be Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) or maybe Brian (Ryan McIntyre)? Or maybe it’s Landon (Caleb Eberhardt), the seemingly shy boy who has crush on Riley and magically appears everywhere?
What “Black Christmas” lacks in horror and gore, it makes up for in full-on opinion. There’s no subtext here. Writers Sophia Takal — who also directed — and April Wolfe have opinions, and they make them known loud and clear.
It’s an important message. Riley was raped, and no one believed her. Not the college officials and not the police. Her life stopped, while her attacker’s went on swimmingly. We see some of the same threads play out again when Riley realizes her sisters are going missing and she goes to campus security for help. Again, they don’t believe what she has to say, even when she shows them some pretty creepy texts she’s been getting from the killer. While there’s a part of me skeptically wondering if campus security could so blatantly disregard someone’s complaints, I also realize accusations are not heard regularly, which is a point the film tries to make, albeit heavy-handedly at times.
The 1974 “Black Christmas” was one of the first films to really embrace the “final girl” trope. You know it: after the killer has made his way through a camp, city, campus, etc, there’s just one girl that’s survived. Granted, in the 1974 film, the final girl’s survival wasn’t known at the end of the film.
The 2019 iteration is much more clear-cut in who’s left standing as the credits roll. It’s a film about fighting back, or more specifically, Riley learning to fight back. Since her assault, she’s begun to crawl inside herself for lack of better phrasing. She wears clothing that doesn’t fit and keeps her head hung low. Her sister, Kris (Aleyse Shannon), flat out tells her she can fight back or disappear.
As I said, there are moments that are over-the-top. I actually laughed out loud when the Big Bad is revealed, because it was pretty ludicrous. There’s a definite line drawn between male and female empowerment, and again, there’s no subtext needed when we’re introduced to the 2019 version of the “He-Man Woman Haters Club.” (That’s a reference to “The Little Rascals,” not a spoiler.)
If a movie about young women fighting back against misogyny and patriarchal systems doesn’t appeal to you, it’s best to avoid this feature. It’s not subtle and will assuredly push the buttons of many viewers. That being said the fact that this feature is what it is, plain and simple, with no subtext is downright fascinating from a narrative standpoint. The text is what it presents itself to be. I can’t honestly recall any story I’ve ever read or seen that is this direct, and it is something to behold.