Werner Jane’s review published on Letterboxd:
Directed by Sophia Takal from a script by Takal and April Wolfe: Driven more by feminist ideology and socio-political commentary against the patriarchy rather than the classicism of slasher horror, Blumhouse's Black Christmas sacrifices narrative cohesion, graphic violence of its predecessors, and much less entertainment value in order to achieve a sense of uniqueness that simply doesn't belong.
It's of no surprise then that the film owed much of its (strengths) to the main cast; namely Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, and... I'm sorry I didn't notice the others that much. Brittany 'O Grady played someone named Jesse Bradford and she's outed in the same way as Claire in the original movie, so that should tell you of the nature of this remake. On the other hand, Poots is the kind of actress that would elevate a movie with just her presence alone, and she did carry the fuck out of this one as well, especially since she played a less than nuanced rape victim Riley very commitedly. Plus one point for being convincing with all the awful dialogue. She's ultimately paired well with Shannon as her feisty, rogue-ish BFF Kris, who should be an instant favorite at first sight. Although Cary Elwes is just creepy Cary Elwes. Except creepy Cary Elwes doesn't have much to do except for being an exposition machine.
In respect to the script, Takal and Wolfe's Black Christmas is pretty much the "Season of the Witch" of the remakes, due to the almost zero connection with either the 1974 original or the 2006 remake. Instead, this Blumhouse-produced feature turns into ordinary teen horror fiesta with emphasis on supernatural cults embedded in fraternities, free from any Billy or Agnes type of killers. Honestly, the story that's depicted here is 50/50 in its appeal to the audience. Maybe 80/20. For me, I admire Takal's and Wolfe's decision to move away from the established lore and embrace contemporary ideas of the 2010s, even if the writing itself was supremely lacking in every way possible. Above all, its lean transition from being just another straightforward slasher survival to fully realized feminist horror is.. interesting enough to warrant a watch. But the approach in which it was presented is the disease to the movie's problem; it beats you over the head and slaps you hard while screaming to never forget that this is a feminist movie. Rape culture, sexism, issues of white male patriarchy, and college environment are overtly discussed and given prime focus in a movie that's supposed to be about masked men terrorising college girls. Say what you want but I don't think those ideas really fit in slasher films like these, especially one that's as enigmatic as Black Christmas.
Alas, the bold move has been done by Takal and Blumhouse, creating a feminist feature that hopefully empower young girls to stand up for themselves, and fight for equality (there's also a moment where toxic femininity takes a highlight in the film). What I have an issue with, however, is the fact that the same socio-political ideology that's been of great influence in the making of this picture is given the utmost concentration first and foremost, while the plot, character development (though Riley has a rather satisfying arc herself) and lore took a backseat. And I couldn't help but feel that every horror element is only there to support what the filmmakers are trying to convey, rather than being what the film is all about. We, as the audience, goes to a slasher film to be entertained and maybe take a lesson or two through a possibly covert morality inserted, not to be lectured extensively. Also, for a female empowerment feature, the female characters themselves are very one-note, similarly disposable and much less memorable than either Bob Clark's or Glen Morgan's. I respect the #MeToo-powered effort and in offering something other than blood and guts, though I didn't like it very much with how forcibly deafening it's.
Equally important is Sophia Takal's direction in making the film into what it is, which left me with bitter taste and disappointment I couldn't express by words. I saw her feature films Always Shine and New Year New You prior to seeing Black Christmas, and while they didn't make any lasting impression, I thought Takal is definitely a talent to look forward to in the horror genre. I mean, she should be the perfect choice to direct a sorority slasher. But sadly, that's not the case here. Aside from the misleading trailer and poster (which shows the "badass" four fully armed main protagonists yet the actual film spits on that image), there seemed to be a decent film somewhere in this particular final product, perhaps before it was significantly altered due to the poor test screenings. And that speaks evidently for the PG-13 rating that was imposed, breaking the R-rated tradition of previous Black Christmas films (which I'll come to discuss later on). The most weird thing that I ended up scratching my head through and through, is Takal's slow-burn storytelling approach for a film of this calibre. It essentially takes a long time, more so than needed to get to the focal point, with her focus being channeled majorily towards the character interactions and development of Christmas aesthetic. Unfortunately, the lacklustre script simply couldn't hold those moments together and they ended up boring and unnecessary.
Moreover, there are suprisingly elements from the classic that were included as well such as the creepy phone calls (which are relegated to merely edgy text messages) and manners of killing being reversed. The horror elements are even poorly handled, with many jump scares depending on loud-as-hell boom effects (there's a scare scene that's similar to the famous one in The Exorcist III) and the now infamous PG-13 keeps the movie back from ever touching the gruesome dead zone. So rarely have I ever been to a slasher movie that doesn't deliver the gore such as 2019's Black Christmas, I was left with blue balls (pardon my language in this review) more than a dozen times. Truly, the potentially graphic violence in the scenes are always cut off before they're explicitly shown, or in the context of the absurd finale, obscured by annoyingly shaky camera. No blood, no guts, no satisfaction of getting stabbed by an icicle, nor strangled by Christmas lights, then what are as audience are supposed to enjoy then? And the way they handled exposition is definitely one of the worst in recent memory. Likewise, courtesy of DP Mark Schwartzbard's hazy, darkened cinematography too that the film looked uglier than it should've, even with all the decoration of Christmas lightings which were failed to be used effectively. Consequently, because of the negative test screenings and such, Jeff Betancourt's editing is likewise horrid to observe. This movie feels the most typical of Blumhouse's brand of teen horror, and that's really a new low bar even for them.
Overall, they screwed this up. Blumhouse's Black Christmas lacks the subtle powerhouse of tension and atmospheric brutality of the original, and also disregarding the stylish visuals and over the top gore of the first remake, leaving it as a feminist slasher piece that's more "feminist" than slasher. My theater experience was so boring that it's been 6 hours now after I left and I'm still feeling the boredness of watching it. Well, for better or worse, congratulations to 2006 Black Christmas for not being the black sheep in the family anymore! Good job sweetie, mommy loves you.
- Part of December 2019 Christmas Movies Watchlist