On the surface, “Black Christmas” should work in spades. Directed by Sophia Takal, this new take on the classic slasher film has all the ingredients necessary to make a big stamp on the horror genre today. Fiercely set in our post Me-Too era, “Black Christmas” sets out to use the slasher framing and update it with themes of rape culture, misogyny and trauma. It’s a film clearly made with passion and not just a soulless studio product, but unfortunately the pieces just don’t come together.
Loosely taking the idea of the 1974 Bob Clark classic — and the underrated 2006 remake — in which a group of sorority sisters are unknowingly stalked by a killer their own home, this incarnation of “Black Christmas” instead follows a group of sorority sisters as they navigate the holiday season from the toxicity of a nearby frat while eventually being hunted by a group of masked killers.
Like similar Blumhouse titles such as “Get Out” and “The Purge” franchise, “Black Christmas” is another entry in the social horror subgenre, which certainly makes sense as the original film was ahead of its time in terms of its progressive views, particularly its stance on Abortion having been released just two years after Roe v. Wade. Whereas the previous titles were able to say their message through a well-told story, “Black Christmas” falls flat in its attempt to tell a compelling story and the messaging is far too didactic, forgoing any layered complexity to make any sort of impact.
The script — co-written by April Wolfe, a former film critic — is so caught up in heavily relaying its message, the slasher element of the story is largely forgotten for most of the second act. A slow-burn is certainly not a bad thing, but for a film with little substance outside of its core ideas, it gets tiring despite the brief 92 minute runtime. The film is also incredibly predictable. By the 20 minute minute mark, we know exactly who the villains are and, like its unsubtle messaging, the film practically spells its reveals out for us, in case we weren’t paying attention.
Despite a couple moments of suspense and a jump scare here or there, “Black Christmas” is pretty bare when it comes to frights. Clearly watered down from its intended R rated, the kills are largely bloodless and the editing is frustratingly choppy, making the climax visually dour. The lack of atmosphere is another big letdown given the holiday setting. The previous “Black Christmas” films, while both different in their own ways, made striking use of their respective environments with highly contrasted colors and created a cold, eerie sense of place. This new take largely ignores its holiday setting and, in retrospect, could’ve taken place most any other day of year.
There are a handful of moments that show genuine promise. The opening sequence does a capable job at building tension. Takal has a keen eye for framing, making some of the films jump scares more effective than expected; particularly a sequence borrowing heavily from a classic moment in “The Exorcist 3”. In maybe the films best scene, our leads perform a sultry holiday number, ala “Mean Girls”, at a frat house that instead calls out the frat for their wrongdoings in a moment that’s both highly satisfying and fairly effective. It’s this scene that makes the overall film that much more disappointing as the scene showcases the true potential for what the film is going for.
Full of relative newcomers outside of Imogen Poots and Cary Elwes, the cast is highly likeable, giving authentic, charismatic performances. Poots is reliably charming in her role, bringing some much needed subtlety in her performance. Cary Elwes, clearly having fun, deftly chews the scenery as a college professor with a potential secret.
“Black Christmas” is an unfortunate missed opportunity. It’s soap box storytelling in its purest form that says practically nothing about the ideas it raises. It offers up worthy themes and messages that should be explored in a modern slasher, but unfortunately that’s all it does.