Friday, December 13, 2019

Black Christmas: Remade by Blumhouse

Bob Clark’s 1974 horror movie was the original “the calls are coming from inside the house” shocker, predating When a Stranger Calls by about five years. It was also the first really notable Christmas horror movie, but certainly not the best. Nevertheless, it has already been remade once. Blumhouse takes another stab at the yuletide slasher with Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas, which opens today nationwide.

Apparently, at Hawthorne College, classes stay in session until sometime around December 23rd. Christmas trees and lights are everywhere, but students are just starting to leave for the semester break. Riley Stone will not be one of them. She always remains on campus with a small group of self-proclaimed “orphans.” Tragically, one of her coed classmates won’t be going home either, because a cloaked figure hacked her to death during an early kill-scene, after sending her a series of hostile texts. She won’t be the last.

We soon learn Stone and three of her closest sorority sisters have also received similar texts. As word spreads of other female colleagues who are missing and unaccounted for, Stone starts to suspect something horrific is afoot. The elitist fraternity she and her sisters just called out for date rape crimes are the logical suspects, along with their faculty advisor, Prof. Gelson (you’d think the smug defender of Western patriarchal meritocracy would have a doctorate, but evidently not). It turns out, Stone has filed a complaint against him, just to make it crystal clear Gelson is a bad guy.

This take on Black Christmas has to be the most clumsily didactic Christmas movie ever. Takal and co-screenwriter April Wolfe are not satisfied with making their points. They are compelled to beat them into the ground and salt the earth around them. Seriously, this film makes Knives and Skin look like a peace offering to the “patriarchy,” whatever that might be. Yet, most of their attempts to score sexual-political points will fail to land for a very fundamental reason. The stilted dialogue they put into the nasty frat brothers’ mouths sounds like things they want people to believe un-woke dudes would say, but the complete absence of authenticity or credibility is crushingly awkward. Kicking over a transparent straw horse like the evil Delta house will not impress anyone and it will only entertain especially militant social justice warriors.

It is a shame because Takal stages some reasonably intense scenes of slasher horror. Frankly, viewers will almost start roll with it when watching the psychotic Emperor Palpatine cos-player stalking the sisters throughout their weirdly elegant-looking sorority house. In a radical departure from previous Black Christmases, Takal & Wolfe add a wacky supernatural element. It is debatable whether this is a mistake or not, but it definitely kicks the film into the sphere of unintentional over-the-top comedy, ending the affair on quite a distinctive note.

Frankly, Imogen Poots looks largely disinterested as Stone. That might be understandable, but it is still rather problematic, since she is the lead and her character has the most sharply drawn victim-to-empowerment development arc. Besides Cary Elwes hamming it up as Prof. Gelson, most of the characters are nearly indistinguishable from each other. Only Aleyse Shannon (so memorable in the “Tutorial” episode of Two Sentence Horror Stories) really makes any kind of impression as Kris, the impulsive activist sister.

There is real violence happening on colleges today, but it is nothing like what is depicted here. Someone could make a genuinely “edgy” horror movie following the violence of woke campus activists, who disrupt speakers they disagree with and harass fellow students with opposing points view, as their aggression finally descends into full blown killing sprees. Of course, Takal and Blumhouse did not do that, which is why anyone in touch with the state of higher education today will consider this film a complete disconnect from reality (check out No Safe Spaces for some truly frightening anecdotes). More importantly for most viewers, it just isn’t that good.

It is not even very Christmassy, beyond the trees and trimmings. If you are in the mood for a Christmas horror movie, watch Better Watch Out, or Secret Santa, or Anna and the Apocalypse, or Slay Belles, or Into the Dark: Pooka!, and skip the new Black Christmas. Not recommended, the Blumhouse remake opens widely today (12/13) in theaters, including the AMC Empire in New York.