Black Christmas

Black Christmas

A genuine fear opens Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas; a female millennial’s solitary night-time trip back to her sorority house grows tense when silhouetted by an indiscriminate man who follows her every move, his unbroken gaze obscured by his incessant phone browsing. The optics of this sobering beginning are startling, and in anticipation for any violent turn, the briskly-paced student sticks her keys in her fists, only for her male shadow to abscond to his residence. Despite the immediate threat being gone for now, the on-going atmosphere that this situation triggers burns brighter than her neighbourhood’s Christmas light decorations – until a masked slasher shows up to swiftly slaughter the innocent teen in the dead of night.

It’s this blunt diversion from frank reality into 90’s-era slasher schlock that consistently undercuts the pounding political heart at the centre of Takal’s misguided remake of Black Christmas. The original, helmed by Bob Clark and oft-described as the very first slasher film, retro-fitted the infamous “Babysitter and the man upstairs” urban legend into something spectacularly ambiguous and dripping with dread within every tinsel-adorned frame. On the flip-side, Glen Morgan’s highly underrated 2006 re-imagining reversed everything about Clark’s original vision; it’s gleefully gory, brimming with creative kills and a perverse willingness to push boundaries.

So what does Blumhouse’s PG-13 take on this tale bring to the table? College campuses are a wholly different battleground to what they were just 13 years ago, so on paper, one can imagine why a holiday horror – fronted by a diverse cast of females – could’ve easily been adapted to today’s heated social climate, and Takal’s script (co-written by April Wolfe) does smartly take this exact approach. What they gained in relevancy, they seemingly lost in subtlety; the target audience of a picture like this are already hyper-aware of what remixing this story with today’s social signifiers is trying to say.

Didacticism for the sake of moralising can work – The increasingly popular “Big Short” format of splicing fourth-wall-breaking blocks of exposition works for some people – but Black Christmas is a train-wreck of a TED talk punctured by lifeless kills that are as bloodless as they are uninspired. Confronting rape culture in American colleges isn’t a bad prospect – horror is quite often a nifty conduit for broaching risky subjects – but the clumsy, colouring book broadness of how it handles this horrific subject borders on condescending – each tense topic is merely paid brief lip service, awkwardly shoe-horned into the dialogue of its androgynous cast of characters.

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