Director/Writer: Sophia Takal / Writer: April Wolfe / Cast: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes, Simon Mead, Madeleine Adams, Ben Black, Ryan McIntyre.
Body Count: ~25
Hey, remember that episode of Buffy where she and Cordelia were invited to a frat party where the brothers tried to feed them to snake-thing that lived under the house? If you ever wanted that loosely converted into a movie, here you are! Spoooilers.
The trailer for this second ‘remake’ of the 1974 later-appreciated classic was one of those that gave the entire effing plot away, so little was left to surprise and shock, bar the fact that Blumhouse cut out most of the bloodletting to drop the rating to a wider-net brandishing PG-13 to ‘empower’ young female viewers. The result is that you can’t actually tell what’s happened to some characters.
Even to call it a remake is a stretch, as beyond a campus and seasonal setting coinciding with some murders, there’s almost nothing that relates to Bob Clark’s film here: Yes, the house cat is named Claudette, and an address is given 1974-something-street. Creepy phone calls are swapped out for wanky DMs that the sorority sisters assume are from angry frat boys they humiliated at a talent show.
Riley (Poots, from 28 Weeks Later) was date-raped by the president of Hawthorne College’s founder fraternity. Nobody believed her, case dismissed. As the campus thins out for Christmas break, girls who protested in any way seem to be disappearing, meeting nasty ends from a cloaked and mask maniac. A song n’ dance routine that calls out the previous incident might be the provoking factor, or the fact that Elwes’ British professor has a petition out against him for not teaching anything other than books written by white men, or was it the school founder’s bust being removed due to his shady past…
Black Christmas ’19 is being referred to online as a ‘woke’ film, i.e. one that expresses a certain strain of political correctness. While the first was an exercise in the unsettling, the second a trashy gorefest, the third comes as a barely disguised comment on gender issues brought up in a post-#MeToo society.
One of, if not the favourite thing about slasher films for me has been that the sole survivor was always a girl. I loved this from the word go. Assumed weak, but ultimately way stronger than not only the boys around her, but also the (usually) male aggressor, she rises up and kicks ass. In BC19, this motif is multiplied, ruined by the trailer, once the single killer is exposed as an entire frat house full of killers, the surviving sisters mobilise and fight back with Buffy-like readiness, succeeding despite the fact that the boys apparently have superhuman strength provided by the statue of the founder. Yeah, things get supernatural.
Up to the mid-point reveal, BC19 is a decent slasher flick, albeit a rather flat one. The characters are definitely sketched deeper than the 2006 version, where they all appeared to hate one another and just fire off bitchy remarks. Here, their sisterhood is pivotal to the not-so-subtextual subtext. Unfortunately, there’s just no subtlety to any of it: Women good, men evil, and that’s pretty much it. The sole not-damned man is presented as a powerless nerd (albeit a likeable one).
Not being a cisgender straight white guy, I didn’t mind this hammering home of the message; perhaps Takal’s intent was to make it entirely obvious, to upset the apple cart and get people talking leaving no doubt as to the message? This would be fine if Black Christmas were a great film in spite of it, but it’s just not. It looks okay, and there’s a tense scene in the middle where the girls try to find a working phone to call for help, but the finale packs no real punch (again, blame the trailer!) and it ends all too abruptly afterwards with no real feeling of victory.