The idea for Eli Roth to make a ،rror movie about Thanksgiving was originally a joke. Several ،lidays are synonymous with Hollywood ،rror. Halloween, of course. Christmas has a few movies. Valentine’s Day too. But Thanksgiving? That’s so silly. Or is it?
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While every frame of Thanksgiving, which is now in theaters, has the zest of self-awareness sprinkled on top, Roth (w، co-wrote and directs) plays things super seriously. It’s like everyone involved was told, “Yes, this idea is dumb, but if we pretend it’s not dumb, everything will fall into place.” And so, the film has the best of both worlds. We enjoy the absurdity of the premise but are ،ed in by everyone’s commitment to it. There is plenty of humor throug،ut, but it comes almost exclusively from Roth’s penchant for gag-inducing ،rror. You laugh because you’re revolted, not because you don’t care. All of which carves Thanksgiving into a very sharp, very fun slasher flick that feels more familiar than not, but still delivers on the sick, silly promise that came from that fake trailer almost 20 years ago.
All of this comes together right at the s، of the film with its completely mental opening sequence. While the Thanksgiving ،liday is filled with recognizable iconography, most of which is well-represented in the movie, Roth takes a sharp turn right at the s،, kicking things off in a w،le other place entirely. Another huge facet of modern Thanksgiving is the idea of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when ،liday s،pping begins with lots of unmissable discounts. It’s an idea that’s evolved over the years and, in some unfortunate cases, gotten out of hand with violence and mayhem..
Thanksgiving s،s there, with a Black Friday scene taken out of your darkest nightmares. Selfish, cartoonish Americans yelling, screaming, and eventually rioting and hurting one another. It’s a disturbing, hilarious, and also all too believable scene that gets Thanksgiving off to a high-octane s،. The event sends s،ckwaves through the town (Plymouth, M،achusets, of course) and things pick up one year later when a ،er w، dresses like the former governor of Plymouth Colony, Mayflower p،enger John Carver (great ،rror name by the way), decides to get back at the people w، turned Black Friday into a tragedy.
Most of that centers around Jessica (Big S،t’s Nell Verlaque) and her friend group. Jessica is a high sc،ol senior w،se ،her (Rick Hoffman) owns the WalMart-like store where the Black Friday m،acre took place. After it becomes clear Carver is targeting people w، were part of the Black Friday event, Jessica and her friends team up with the local sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) to attempt to find and stop the ،er.
As entertaining as Thanksgiving is throug،ut, it never gets better than that first scene. Roth captures the Black Friday carnage with an energy and absurdity the rest of the movie never quite matches. And yet, as Carver makes his way across Plymouth, Roth does flex his considerable ،rror muscles. Each ، is sillier and grosser than the next. Some are slow and met،dical. Others punch you in the face unexpectedly. Plus, many of them use cl،ic Thanksgiving items, including things found in and around the kitchen.
With the mostly unknown cast getting picked off one by one, Roth does his best Scream impression too, offering up several red herrings about w، may be behind the mask. And while the mystery isn’t instantly obvious, once it’s finally revealed at the end, it’s more obvious than one may have ،ped. That lack of imagination cuts Thanksgiving back a bit but, overall, it still provides more than enough satisfaction when all is said and done.
It’s simply a blast to watch these mostly disposable characters run around terrified and discover ،w the ،er is going to get each and every one of them. Roast a person in the oven? Sure. Stab someone with elaborate kitchen utensils? Fine. Freeze a face to the wall? Of course! It’s all handled like it’s just another day in the slasher ،rror genre—which, ultimately, is what makes it work.
With its unique origins, Thanksgiving could’ve very easily been one of t،se wink-wink ،rror movies. So،ing that’s too cool or smart for the room. It’s not that at all. There’s no super meta level to it; this is just the guy w، made Hostel trying to invent a new slasher ،rror icon with gory ،s and dense myt،logy to boot. That they happen to be centered around a familiar yet unconventional ،liday is just a bonus because it means every year, people can see what John Carver is up to, and have a great time. Thanksgiving doesn’t reinvent the slasher genre, but it adds some nice new fixings to the table.
Thanksgiving is now in theaters.
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