Black Christmas

Black Christmas ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As your basic old man horror fan, experience has taught me to distrust remakes because they are usually cynical cash grabs with nothing of substance to add. If you do it with a well-known title (which someone else already remade!), play up an aggressively modern sensibility and earn a PG-13 for a previously R-rated storyline, you are practically begging for a kneejerk rejection by an atavistic fanbase, while courting indifference from newbies who have no background to appreciate your revisions. This is unfortunately how things went for Sophia Takal's iteration of the Canadian horror favorite, which quickly disappeared in a flurry of dismissive harrumphs last holiday season. I would have ignored this Blumhouse quickie had it not been for the brunt of the complaints, that this beloved tale of female terrorization had been twisted into some kinda hamfisted hashtag feminist statement. That actually sounded interesting to me, although to be honest, I ultimately watched it more out of skeptical curiosity. I never anticipated it would spin so far out from the core template, let alone as successfully as it does. (Typically dumb male underestimation, I realize.)

Similar to the much grimier 2012 Silent Night, Deadly Night redux, Black Christmas '19 delivers the familiar premise (sorority sisters on campus during winter break get slashed) with a few tributary winks, but otherwise throws out the rest, seeming far more inspired by another source. Remember how Suspiria '18 felt like someone got really high and watched the original, then "remade" it focusing on all the tangents his mind took during the viewing? Imagine something like that here, but more lucid and very heavily under the influence of The Slumber Party Massacre. Whereas that Rita Mae Brown-penned send-up of slasher movies could be mistaken for unsatisfyingly tame genre filler, Takal's antecedent befits a climate where political nuance is forbidden, having no pretense of delivering its messages with subtlety. The intention to subvert and reclaim the scenario is therefore unmistakable, and while I can understand some viewers' frustration with the bluntness, I didn't mind, appreciating that it encourages and celebrates young women who stand together when threatened with gendered violence. With this as its guiding principle, a rating that reflects a decision to not linger on the gory specifics of co-ed murders makes complete sense. Truthfully, I barely noticed the PG-13 parameters at work.

As for the new plotline, I'd imagine any hardliners who weren't already pissed about Takal turning the mystery killer into an institutionalized misogynist conspiracy got there when she capped it with supernatural interference. This addition does seem beyond the pale at first, begging the question of why they called it Black Christmas again when it's so clearly striving toward its own aims. The answer is undoubtedly money-based, which we genre oldsters should take as a reminder to not hate remakes, rather hate the system that demands them. Even when this does echo the 1974/2006 versions, the updates aren't arbitrary, like the gross phone calls replaced with threatening DMs, or a reproductive rights theme taking a backseat to the myriad ills of rape culture. It always looks crisp, never lags and the cast is solid, with special mention for protagonist team anchors Imogen Poots and Aleyse Shannon and for Cary Elwes, once again proving a convincing slimeball. On first encounter, this really delivered more than I expect from a mainstream horror remake, particularly in its wealth of heart. I sincerely wish it had a different title, and it made me want to check out Takal's other films.

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