Back in December Sam and I watched the original Black Christmas (1974) and did a double review. The general consensus between us was that we really liked it. It had strong feminist themes without shoving them in your face and possibly without even trying to aim for them.
Sam and Shawn will be joining me on this review because the more the merrier and also, misery loves company.
Tuesday night Sam, Shawn, and I watched Black Christmas (2019). We had heard a lot about it and wanted to see if the criticism was justified or not. Especially since part of the hype (and hate) seemed to be mainly focused on the feminist angle and that it was rated PG-13. Now, for me, PG-13 doesn’t automatically make me disinterested in a movie. There have been some very good horror movies that were rated PG-13 such as The Sixth Sense and Secret Window.
Before we get into this be warned – there will be SPOILERS but really, we’re saving you from watching it anyway. There will also be rage. A lot of rage.
I will try not to go into too much of a scene by scene approach but I can’t promise anything once I get going. First, I will start off with two of the only compliments that I will give it. First of all, I can respect that they didn’t automatically pair up Kris (Aleyse Shannon) and Landon (Caleb Eberhardt) as a romantic couple based solely on the fact that they were the PoC characters. And Riley (Imogen Poots) and Landon had a lot of chemistry together. The actors, in general, were very good (and it’s always fun to see Cary Elwes go full ham, he’s like a classier version of Nicholas Cage when he does).
I also did really like the song the girls perform in it. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t coherent enough for me to figure out if the song was pre-planned or made up on the spot. That might seem nitpicky but it’s symptomatic of the movie. A lot of the messages could have been good, points that were very viable but buried under so much on-the-nose nonsense that they got ridiculous and over-exaggerated.
To start with, the girls barely have defining characteristics. Three of them looked so much alike that I had to double check who was who for this. Riley had one defining feature – she was raped. Kris is the Firebrand Activist, Jess (who I actually ended up liking by sheer virtue of her responses mainly being “What? I’m not getting involved in your mess”) was the Airhead, Marty – The One With The Boyfriend (more on him later), and Helena – The Traitor.
Yes, Helena is the submissive little doll, every incel and neckbeard’s wet dream. Because there can’t possibly be any middle ground between ‘every man is a rapist scumbag‘ and ‘we must serve the men, ’tis our duty‘. Since Marty was The One With The Boyfriend that would have been a good opportunity to show an equal relationship but no, they had to give him the most basic “not all men” argument along with a Brett Kavanaugh reference. At one point he goes to the defence of his girlfriend (who has already been skewered) yelling “I’ll save you, m’lady!” only to promptly get killed himself. Ok, I paraphrased that but not by much.
There is a weird moment when the girls’ song goes viral and Riley is freaked out that her comment about Brian got a lot of attention. Kris thinks that they’ll be getting applause but Riley responds that a lot of the comments are vile which leads to an argument between her and Kris about Kris always pushing. It feels out of left field because there’s no lead up to it, no talking about it, nothing. It feels like exactly what it is. A poorly constructed plot point only there to kick off the final act. And, again, a wasted opportunity to say something about a lot of the nasty comments women get online. But really I’m just guessing with that as it’s not explored at all.
To be fair, Landon is a good character and he was really the only one that I did like. But even he fell prey to the insidious sludge of toxic masculinity. They even have an Alpha Male Dogwhistle to bring out the Alpha from his (presumed) Beta. But he snaps out of the toxic masculinity induced hypnosis as soon as the Bust of Patriarchy is smashed. Which leaves the ‘triumphant’ ending on a very sour note. Presumably, all of the other boys are out of their hypnosis, as well. But it’s ok if they die in a fire, literally, I guess.
The movie also inexplicably veers off into supernatural territory for no apparent reason which actually undercuts their men are all evil just waiting to be unleashed. Once you bring supernatural forces into play it undermines the true evil that humans are capable of.
This is also where Helena is revealed to be the Traitor – gathering items from the women for the men and their ritual. Which is never really explained because the items don’t seem to do anything beyond letting the frat boys know which girls to target. Which, since it’s happening to all of the sororities seems unnecessary. But, whatever, because it’s really only there for Hayley to see her barrette (or something) on the altar before she gets quickly offed with the not-so-subtle subtext of “See?? Even if you support them they’ll always turn on you!”
Black Christmas also shoots itself in the foot several times. Kris gives Riley a big “get out there and show your attacker how strong you are” speech but it feels very shallow and a little self-serving since she’s trying to talk Riley into singing with them. When the final act is kicking off Riley yells at Kris, explaining that they have to fight and Kris is being a coward, basically. Do I really need to explain the optics of a white woman explaining why they need to fight? Then, in the final confrontation, Riley smashes Elwes’ head open but it’s up to Landon to defend her from Brian, the man who raped her.
I’ll wrap my section up and let Sam and Shawn get in here.
Without further ado…heeeere’s Sam and Shawn!
I was expecting Black Christmas to be bad and worthy of many an eye-roll going in. What I was not expecting was to be filled with rage by the time the credits rolled. Black Christmas is so bad as to be actually offensive. Gracie and I watched the original Black Christmas back in December, and I absolutely loved it. So obviously I drew comparisons in my head to the original. Black Christmas (1974) a smart, original slasher (possibly THE original slasher, actually) that doesn’t rely on gore and tropes to bring the horror. It also happens to feature an almost entirely female cast of bad-ass, feminist women breaking social norms and just generally being awesome.
Black Christmas (2019) took the idea of “what if women in horror movies had more depth than just standard sexy victims,” turned the idea dial up to 10, then just fucking kept cranking until they were right back at 0. These women are caricatures. Our main character, Riley, has a single defining feature – she’s been raped. So that’s cool since we all know trauma is a suitable substitute for personality in women. Her friend (I remember literally no one’s names other than Riley, and I’m not looking this stupid movie up, so this is what you’re getting) is basically what Republicans on Twitter think feminists are. She spends the entire movie talking about how men are pigs and petitioning to have a professor fired because “his classics aren’t my classics” as his syllabus didn’t feature any women. The other sorority sisters all blend together but they’re largely “quirky,” outspoken but real-world stupid women.
There’s no subtlety or finesse to this movie either. It bludgeons the viewer over the head continuously with its rah-rah “feminist” message while portraying the most stereotypical, man-hating version of feminism possible. Where the original had an empowering subtext that fed into the strength of its characters (male and female alike), this movie gets in your face and screams at the viewer for being a bad feminist. There is no one to root for here. The last 15 or so minutes are so on the nose, it was painful to watch. I think I actually strained something rolling my eyes when our “hero” LITERALLY SMASHES THE PATRIARCHY and then all the sorority sisters hug it out and cry because guys, look how EMPOWERED they are, overcoming the evil oppressions of man together.
And then there’s the fact that for probably 80%+ of its runtime, this movie entirely forgets that it’s supposed to be a Christmas movie. Any concerns I had about watching holiday-themed horror in May were unfounded since other than one scene of sexy dancing Mrs. Clauses (with a feminist twist, of course!) and a ham being cooked, there’s nothing Christmasy going on.
There were a couple of fun call-backs to the original with set props, the cat is still named Claudette, and a couple of murders are pulled straight from the original, but that is quite literally the only nice thing I have to say about this movie. And it isn’t even really a nice thing, because it just makes me angry that obviously someone watched the original, paid enough attention to be able to incorporate those details, and still, this steaming shitheap is the end result we’re left with.
Frankly, I’m shocked that it was written and directed by a woman, because this movie does a serious disservice to feminism. And men. And women in general. And cats. And Christmas ham. Basically, just any group mentioned or involved in any way with or in this movie is done dirty. Black Christmas (2019) absolutely does not deserve your time. Save yourself a rage headache and watch the original instead
Black Christmas (2019) is a “message horror movie” that is not interested in the “horror” or “movie” parts of that equation. It doesn’t so much have a plot as it has a checklist of issues it wants to address and it addresses them with the subtly of a YouTube comments section. Characters are constantly spouting exposition or explaining their feelings and none of it feels organic.
There are no good scares and after the opening murder scene, it’s at least halfway through the movie before it remembers it’s supposed to be a horror movie. It also does not live up to the Black Christmas name, not only because it’s barely a horror movie, but because it’s barely a Christmas movie. You could remove the Christmas setting and lose almost nothing. Oh and the less said about the third act the better. The one good thing about all this is that the 2006 remake will no longer be considered the worst version of Black Christmas.
In conclusion, the death scenes are uninspired, the camera work is flat and dull. The lighting is decent (at least it wasn’t pitch black) and the sets are at least good. The final scene had some great music and I couldn’t help but wish it had been in a far more epic movie. It also had some really crappy editing. I could not tell who was doing what half the time.
I read on IMDB that they (supposedly) aimed for a PG-13 to attract young female horror fans. Which is really insulting. As I said before, I don’t have an issue with PG-13 horror movies, they can be really good sometimes. This was not one of those times. Young girls don’t need their horror dumbed down for them. It’s condescending and patronizing. Stop it.
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Coolthulhu Crew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.
Gracie is also a member of the Ladies of Horror Fiction crew.