Black Christmas – Review

Horror, Thriller, Mystery | 92 Min
Black Christmas (2019) Horror Movie Review
  • Release Date: 12 Dec, 2019
  • Director: Sophia Takal
  • Actors: Imogen Poots, Cary Elwes
  • Country: United States,
  • Language: English
  • Parental Guidance: References to sexual assault, bad language, sex talk, crude humour, some gore, some violence, overacting
  • Writers: Sophia Takal, April Wolfe
  • Producers: Jason Blum, Ben Cosgrove, Adam Hendricks
  • Horror, Thriller, Mystery | 92 Min

A group of female students is stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break. That is until the young sorority pledges discover that the killer is part of an underground college conspiracy.

We are 10 days into December and that can mean only one thing. It is time to open our Awful Advent Calendar and see what is behind door 10. Unfortunately, it’s another awful remake of Black Christmas. We recently reviewed Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas from 2006 and didn’t have many positive things to say. So, with that in mind, does Sophia Takal’s 2019 version fare any better? Spoiler alert – No, it fares a lot worse.

You may remember Sophia Takal as Stephanie in the Second Honeymoon segment of V/H/S. Her take on the Black Christmas story attempts to take the series in a whole new direction. Sharing almost nothing in common with the 1974 classic. This version of the movie focuses on a spooky college fraternity that is killing women.

Themes of feminism and “girls sticking together” take centre stage. Exciting, right? Well, unfortunately the film doesn’t manage to do anything with the promising, uplifting, premise. Without further ado, let’s take a look. As always I will give a quick, spoiler free, breakdown which you can skip if you like.

Awful Advent

We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.

The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.

Black Christmas (2019) – Synopsis

Black Christmas starts with a young woman being stalked via text messages on her way home. Panicked, she starts running before arriving at a house. Banging on the door, she begs to be let in. The door opens and a man answers wearing a cowl and a mask. The man breaks an icicle off of the guttering and murders the girl with it.

Black Christmas (2019) Horror Movie Review

We are later introduced to a group of girls from the Mu Kappa Epsilon sorority. The only one of any particular note is Riley Stone, played by Imogen Poots. Heading to class, she is taught by Professor Gelson, played by Cary Elwes. He reads a piece of seemingly misogynistic text to the class. It turns out the text was written by a woman. One of Riley’s sorority sisters has launched a petition to have Gelson removed. Claiming he is racist and misogynistic. He is reading the text to make a point that text has no gender. He can’t teach without referring to these texts so shouldn’t be considered to be bigoted.

Riley and a group of her sorority sisters arrive at the DKO fraternity house for a talent show. The girls have a plan to perform a song. Apparently Riley was sexually assaulted by one of the frat brothers. The sisters get on stage and sing their song accusing the frat brothers of assault. A short while later, Riley starts receiving threatening text messages. Perhaps angry about the accusations. She has become the next target of the strange group murdering women.

Coal in my Stocking!

I have to be honest, I completely regret reviewing this movie. It was only due to watching the 2006 remake that I actually decided to go with it. A couple of years ago, my partner and I watched this movie. We thought it was absolute trash. Believing that we, perhaps, didn’t give the Glen Morgan version a fair shake. We decided to watch the 2006 version of Black Christmas immediately after. You know, for comparison’s sake. Our suspicions proved to be true. Glen Morgan’s version was miles better. While not a good movie, it does actually feel at least somewhat like the original. It is set in a house. I love the camera work, as well as the lighting. On top of that, the movie maintains many of the original’s themes.

So, moving on a few years to the present day. I covered Glen Morgan’s version last week. After watching that version to review it. In the back of my mind I was thinking “Damn, this is worse than the 2019 version”. This prompted me to watch Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas once again. I mean, I had to compare them in the interest of fairness. I figured, while I did that, I would put together a review for it. Man what a huge mistake. I was completely wrong. The 2019 version is one of the worst horror movies I have ever watched. I can barely make it through the entire length of the film. It is a punishing watch. It is going to be a difficult task to go through all of the issues so I will point out the most significant.

Christmas Slasher Horror

Sophia Takal’s version of Black Christmas is nothing at all like the 1974 version. Searching for a single hint of the taut atmosphere that made the original great is a waste of time. Wishing for any of the original’s palpable tension results in abject disappointment. In fact, the similarities end at the name. Tributes to Bob Clark’s proto-slasher, horror, classic stretch to the naming of a cat and a few utterly redundant scenes. It all leaves one to wonder why this movie needed the Black Christmas title in the first place.Black Christmas (2019) Horror Movie Review

Although it maintains the similar slasher style of the previous movies. The film is set over multiple days and the killings take place over an entire town. The claustrophobic feeling of the original has completely gone. We now have a milquetoast slasher vibe filled with generic locations. This is “slasher by the numbers” sans the tension and scares that typically come along with the genre.

Into the Meat Grinder

Black Christmas features an extensive cast of vapid, one dimensional, characters. Set up like cannon fodder, they are dispatched of in quick succession with nary a care from the rest of the cast. The movie seeks to elaborate on only one character, Rachel Riley. Rachel is suffering from PTSD due to a sexual assault. It becomes apparent that said assault was perpetrated by DKO “frat bro” Brian.

Desiring revenge. She performs a cabaret style song accusing Brian of rape in front of the entire fraternity. Feeling somewhat vindicated, she suddenly begins to receive text messages. Women around her start disappearing. Her concerns are brushed off by friends and the police and, naturally, she fears for her life. Cue up the usual slasher shenanigans, rinse and repeat. Oh, and for good measure. Why not throw in some absolutely ludicrous supernatural goings on? That could help to explain away some of the events? Right? Yes, I am serious and it is as farcical as it sounds.

All of these events lead up to an ending that feels extremely disjointed from the rest of the film. It’s as if Takal watched Sucker Punch and thought it was based on a true story. Unrealistic and fairly dismissive of the genuine, terrifying, threat men pose to women. It’s as lacklustre as the rest of the movie and a poor attempt to make up for the weak presentation of feminism.

So Many Issues

I really don’t feel as though I can spend an entire review pointing out the issues in this movie. It would be easier to simply summarise. For a start, Black Christmas is not at all scary. It doesn’t feature inventive kills, the characters aren’t fun and the bad guys are pathetic. It is a very amateur feeling production. Despite the budget of $5 million, there is a distinct cheapness to everything.

Set design is drab and uninspired. Lighting is flat and does absolutely nothing to increase atmosphere or tension. Camera work is beyond shoddy. Shots also change rapidly with a notable “Why use one angle when you can use four?” feeling to the movie. This is an issue throughout the film’s length. One scene, in particular, absolutely bears mention for this. When the girls are singing at the frat house. One part features 10 different angles in 10 seconds. It looks atrocious and this is a repeated issue throughout the film.

Black Christmas (2019) Horror Movie Review

Character development is virtually non-existent. Takal’s cast of heroines are little more than tired caricatures. We have the spunky girl who is determined to bring down the patriarchy. The quirky girl who cracks jokes and enjoys leaving her menstrual cup in random places. The nerdy guy who is suitably inoffensive but still not trusted because he owns a penis. The couple who argue a lot and, of course, Rachel the “main one”. Nobody has any real personality. Traits rarely stretch outside of the parameters defined by their specific character type. They are just set up to be corpses in waiting and little else. An entire extra sorority house appears in the last few scenes to bulk out the numbers. You aren’t going to remember who these people are though so what does it matter?

A Terrible Story

The story is incredibly lacking. Supernatural abilities explain away what is over an hour of pure boredom. Everything feels horribly underdeveloped. It is as if the movie was being written on napkins as the crew was filming. It feels desperately half baked and completely lacking in intrigue. Black Christmas does not want you to have to think too hard. This is something that, perhaps, deserves praise when it comes to slashers. Here, however, it is a big problem. Anything that could potentially qualify as a mystery is made abundantly obvious. Exposition is to a ridiculous level. Due to this, it is almost impossible to care about anything that happens.

Some of the later scenes have an almost comical, Scooby Doo-esque, nature to them. We are subjected to, one of, the most obvious, character un-masking scenes in horror history. That is followed by 5 more minutes of painful exposition. The character literally explains the entire events of the movie. This is complete with cutbacks to certain scenes. All the while Rachel looks on, slack jawed. I guess the viewer is too stupid to have deduced this themselves? And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling sorority sisters.

Awful Acting

Acting, outside of Imogen Poots as Rachel, is pretty awful. Poots does an okay job and really tries to work with the terrible script. The women have a fairly natural rapport with each other. Perhaps they spent a decent amount of time together on set. They had to do something while Takal and Wolfe were writing the scenes in-between shots.

There is a distinct feeling of overacting, throughout, however. This is particularly noteworthy with a couple of characters. Aleyse Shannon, as Kris, wants every single drop of the limelight. Someone should have been hired purely to stop her from chewing the scenery. You know, given that the director doesn’t want to do it. Her “main character syndrome” is even evident on the front cover. She will likely annoy you incredibly quickly but she is not the only offender. Nathalie Morris, as Fran, is just as bad. She has a permanent fixed grin that makes me think they were lacing the rice krispies with cocaine.

Black Christmas (2019) Horror Movie Review

Many of the characters are so painfully underdeveloped that they don’t get a chance to shine. Madeline Adams seemed fine as Helena. Her final scenes are so poorly written, however, it undermines her performance. Lily Donoghue, as Marty, is okay but is very much a background character. Caleb Eberhardt was unremarkable as Landon. All of the jock “bros” were embarrassingly bad. Simon Mead, as Nate, has one expression.. Honestly, one expression. He uses it the entire film, even when Marty’s is in danger. I would say he is out of his depth but this movie is so bad I think he is only about chest deep.

Not Cary Elwes, Anything but Cary Elwes

Unfortunately, someone thought Cary Elwes would be a good casting choice. Can we stop giving this dude work? He was a train wreck in Saw and he is almost as bad here. At least they allow him to use his actual accent, I suppose. Elwes hams it up so much towards the latter parts of the movie. He is like a 60’s Batman villain but without the charm. Much like he did with Saw, his biggest accomplishment here is vanquishing the already dying threat of any tension.

A Bad Script

The script, written by Takal and April Wolfe, is pretty terrible. While not quite as bad as Greg Morgan’s script from the 2006 Black Christmas. The characters are so poorly written that Black Christmas feels like a high school drama production. It’s very basic. Even worse is that the story simply doesn’t support growth. The women here have no depth to their characters. Motivations beyond base level survival and Tumblr level rants are not expanded on. It is woefully disappointing. Character development is very important when you want a viewer to care about your cast.

Certain scenes that should be dramatic and carry weight suffer majorly. Takal and Wolfe evidently have no idea how to write tension. This results in a very “Young Adult” literature feeling to everything. They constantly have their characters explain, in basic terms, what is happening. Their inability to put together a nuanced, cohesive story is painfully apparent. The decision to dip into supernatural happenings takes the writers even further out of their depth. The result is little more than a farcical final twenty minutes devoid of gravity.

Poor Direction

A lot of the acting issues boil down to the poor directing. Why was someone not reining in some of these performances? When an actor overacts, it is the job of the director to pull them back a bit. That just wasn’t done here. Why did someone not tell Cary Elwes to chill the hell out with his cartoon villain delivery? How come nobody reminded some of the actors that they should be acting scared? Could Takal have not pointed to Poots and told the other members of the cast “that is how you emote”? It’s an incredibly hands off job of directing. It feels as though Takal was terribly out of her depth managing a production with so many characters. The result is a movie that feels horribly loose.

The poor pacing and redundancy of some of the scenes doesn’t help. Many parts of the movie are padded out with pointless fluff. An argument between Marty and her boyfriend is a good example. Used purely as a vehicle to pre-empt the response of some male viewers. The scene drags on only for her boyfriend to return so Takal can double down on the film’s pseudo feminist message. It is painfully redundant and scenes like this linger laboriously. Poots attempts to save the scene with some fantastic acting. It is too little too late, though. This is a constant issue throughout the film. Excitement and scares are left by the wayside. In their place are scenes designed purely to reinforce the film’s societal messages. The movie suffers horribly for this. The balance between horror and social commentary is wildly off.

A Feminist Theme

This version of Black Christmas features strong feminist themes. Thank God! It is about time the Black Christmas series got its shit together. Apparently Takal has not seen the 1974 version of Black Christmas. You know, that movie where a bunch of girls attempt to survive a violent killer together? They look after each other, care for each other and all search for their missing house mate.

Black Christmas (2019) Horror Movie Review

Perhaps the scene between Jess and her boyfriend slipped her mind. The one where Jess rejects her partner’s insistence that she keep their baby. You know, because she wants to finish university and have a career. The result being that her boyfriend throws a violent strop in the music room. Completely aware that this woman is too strong willed to change her mind at his whim. The same girl then, ignoring the warnings of a police officer, bravely rushes into the house. Determined to find her friends despite the rampaging killer roaming the place.

Either she has never seen this movie or, apparently, all of that wasn’t feminist enough. Takal’s version of Black Christmas aims to fix all of that. It’s about damn time. You know how she does it? By talking about menstrual cups. Buying each other dildos. Posing the difficult question of whether women can use the phrase “taking a dump”. Sticking it to the man and not wearing makeup. Takal…. You fucking go girl!!

Sarcasm Aside

Pushing the sarcasm to one side for a minute. My fiancée and I have always appreciated Black Christmas as a really positive girl power movie. Hearing that there was a remake coming and it was going to focus on the feminist element even more. We were legitimately excited. Personally, I strongly identify with my feminine side. I wear makeup, I style myself in a feminine manner. Despite being six foot and having a deep voice, I consider myself to be gender fluid. I also love feminism themed movies.

I get it, I can’t understand female issues from anything other than an outside perspective. Sure, I have experienced my own personal issues due to being a feminine looking man. That is a completely different thing, however. Despite this, I always gravitate toward films with strong female leads. I also love femme fatales. A quick flick through my review history will reveal that. There is a sense that, as a reviewer, you have to qualify yourself when a movie like this appears. How can I fire a few shots over the social justice shield that will actually hit? Because, in this movie, that is what this is.

A Hollow Message

Takal completely dismissed the feminist themes of the original. Messages of putting your own interests first. Your body, your choice and looking out for your friends are banished. What replaces them is one dimensional characters with token traits. Despite the desire of Takal to make sure her characters are seen. They are repeatedly sent to the kill machine with no character development.

The movie leans into feminist caricatures, almost to the point of parody. Is this really the message we should be sending? A bunch of women that don’t give two fucks about each other. Characters that don’t actually work together until they absolutely have to. The feminism in Black Christmas boils down to repeated references to intimate topics. Yes, we know women talk about shit, we know they fart, we know they masturbate. Pointing this out isn’t feminism. Instead of offering us a group of strong women to root for. We are offered a bunch of men presented as “very white” and “very evil” to hate instead. It is so lazy and there isn’t a single example of Takal and Woolfe not taking the easy way out.

Completely Missed the Mark

This movie needed to get this right. It needed to send a message of togetherness for women. It needed to do this in a way that makes people who watch feel good. Teenage girls should be able to watch this film and think “we are great”. We needed to root for the women because they were awesome. Not because they weren’t quite as annoying as the guys. We needed developed characters and camaraderie. Black Christmas has none of that. It uses basic tropes and caricatures. The only thing that unites the girls is the ever present threat of the patriarchy.

Black Christmas cowers behind its social justice themes. Using them as a way to deflect criticism. It throws the shield up from the start and ducks behind it numerous times. This could have been a fantastic “Girl Power” movie. It is such a shame that we didn’t get what was promised. Simply taking the themes of the original and doubling down on them would have sufficed. Instead we get a high school level interpretation of what feminism is. No nuance, no intelligent commentary and no reason to care. Hell, there isn’t even a single girl of a larger build, here. Would a trans character have been pushing it too far? How about a lady with a visible disability? This isn’t about feminism. The feminist theme is a tool used to promote and deflect.

Do yourself a favour and click this “Bad Ass Women” tag. I haven’t reviewed a ton of movies on here yet. I am constantly adding to the site, however, and I love films with tough female characters. This tag will have plenty of movies with kick ass women in them so go take a look. I can guarantee they will all be better than Black Christmas.

Is it a Knockout?

Black Christmas is yet another remake of the 1974 horror classic. Produced by Jason Blum and directed by Sophia Takal, this version of the movie focuses on a group of sorority sisters fighting an underground college fraternity. Placing its feminist message centre stage and attempting to put across the struggles of women in a male dominated society. Black Christmas had an intriguing premise and so much promise. Unfortunately, terrible directing and an incredibly lacklustre story lead to one of the most disappointing horror movies in years.

Foregoing the nuanced feminist messages of the original movie. Takal pushes aside themes of "your body your choice" and women sticking together. Only to replace them with feminism by numbers. Characters are feminist caricatures almost to the point of parody. The heavy focus on high school level societal commentary pushes the horror completely to the side. This is a poorly written movie with a farcical story, a pitiful bunch of villains and absolutely no scares. The tension of the original is gone only to be replaced by over an hour and a half of pure boredom. Skip it, there are far better movies focusing on tough girls kicking men's asses. Click the "Bad Ass Women" tag below for just a few examples.

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