Friday, November 17, 2023

Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving

Right-Mart's notorious Black Friday sale was more insane than anything Crazy Eddie ever advertised. Technically, it was Black Thursday, but it wasn’t just prices getting slashed during the riot that ensued. The next year, most citizens of Plymouth, MA tried to forget it ever happened, but the mystery man in the pilgrim mask remembers. Boy, does he ever. Everyone he deems responsible had better watch out in Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, which opens today.

At the behest of her obnoxious new stepmother, Theresa Wright’s father Thomas agrees to open the Right Mart on Thanksgiving, offering a free waffle iron to the first one hundred customers. Several of people die for those waffle irons during the resulting stampede. She was there to see all the madness up close, after admitting her toxic friends through the employees’ entrance. Like most Gen Z’ers, they make everything worse, posting cell phone footage of the riots, with their snarky commentary. Their footage provides a handy starting point for the killer, who will become known as “John Carver,” because he wears one of the masks of the original governor of Plymouth Colony, which are littered all over town during Thanksgiving.

In terms of tone,
Thanksgiving is a lot like Terror Train, because most of John Carver’s prey really have it coming, except Theresa, who like Jamie Lee Curtis, is largely a victim of guilt by association. It is also often gruesome, but in an admirably energetic way. Thanksgiving was inspired by Roth’s fictional trailer for Tarantino’s Grindhouse, but he and co-screenwriter Jeff Rendell wisely went back to the drawing board, reconceiving a largely fresh and new Thanksgiving-themed slasher.

Of course, the teens are obnoxious. Clearly, we are not supposed to be overly broken up whenever any of them gets carved up. However, Patrick Dempsey is terrific as Sheriff Eric Newlon, who seems pretty competent despite his evident inability to prevent any of the film’s horrors. Rick Hoffman and Ty Olsson nicely help flesh out the town as Wright’s dad and Mitch Collins, the bitter former Right Mart employee who survives the riot (but his wife Amanda, played by Gina Gershon, does not). Plus, the John Carver mask and Adam MacDonald’s Carver voice-overs might be the best of their kind since the
Scream franchise’s Ghostface.

is probably the best straight-up slasher since probably Scream 2022. It is clear Roth appreciates the subgenre, because even though his execution has plenty of attitude, there is no contempt  for the form or tradition of old school slashers. He and Rendell also remind us of the capacity for mobs to commit horribly violent acts, without feeling any individual responsibility (as we are currently seeing on college campuses today). Nevertheless, the resulting movie is gory, but also a good deal of fun. Recommended for fans of Roth and vintage 1980s slashers, Thanksgiving opens today (11/17) in theaters, including the AMC Empire in New York.