[review by Joseph Henson]
|Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) has a terrible Christmas in IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE.|
It was quite the predicament for George Bailey in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and one faced in similar but bloodier fashion by Winnie Carruthers in IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE: what would life be like if you were never born? Perhaps you, dear reader, have faced a similar dark night of the soul once or twice in your life, where self-pity impedes you from adhering to that old adage: "it's always darkest just before the dawn," and perhaps life, after all, really is worth living.
The once-idyllic town of Angel Falls has become something of a commercial real estate venture, thanks to the greedy, spray-tanned, veneer-wearing antics of Henry Walters (Justin Long, in a deliriously campy performance). It's Christmas time, and Walters has just one piece of real estate left to purchase in order to fully-realize his commercialistic rule over the small town. But, when town patriarch Roger Evans (William B. Davis) refuses to sell his parcel of land to the slimy real estate mogul, a psychotic killer, dressed as a blank-faced Angel of Death, descends upon the small hamlet, seemingly going after the one person standing in the way of Walters. Bye bye, Roger! Meanwhile, Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) and her best friend/grandaughter to Roger, Cara Evans (Hana Huggins), attend a pre-college Christmas party where the horiffic angel strikes again, this time putting the blade to young Cara. Through quick thinking, Winnie stops the killer just before he's able to drive a dagger through the heart of her brother, Jimmy (Aiden Howard). A year passes, and the denizens of the small town have misplaced their grief for faux holiday cheer. All except for Winnie, still overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness since that fateful night. Her father, David (Joel McHale), dotes on Jimmy and is blind to the sadness surrounding his daughter. Winnie, meanwhile, finds the Christmas spirit further slipping away when her college application is rejected, and her boyfriend is caught cheating with the school trollop. As the night brings upon tragedy after tragedy for young Winnie, a bright green aurora opens in the sky over the small town, and Winnie, unable to sink any lower, wishes she were never born. And just like that, she finds herself stuck in a parallel dimension where, because she never existed, no one knows who she is, her brother Jimmy was never saved from the killer, leaving her family in shambles - and worst of all, because the killer was never stopped, he's now free to continue his reign of bloody yuletide terror, which he has been doing on a bi-weekly basis since the initial murder spree one year previous. Her only hope of reverting back to the life she now realizes wasn't as bad as it could be is to once again stop the killer with the help of the one person who believes her current predicament, the nerdy Bernie "Weirdo" Simon (Jess McLeod).
|A killer is on the loose in Angel Falls in IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE.|
Written by the scribe behind FREAKY (2020) and directed by the auteur behind TRAGEDY GIRLS (2017), IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE prances about in similar fashion, applying effective moments of levity between moments of terror, but whereas the former was more jokey and the latter was more cynical, IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE strikes the perfect balance of terror and humor and does away with the cynicism completely. There's not a mean bone in its body, and the humor plays second to truly outstanding character pathos and moments of sublime suspense, including a sequence where the killer has been rendered unconscious, and characters are forced to descend a set of stairs and step over the killer's seemingly but temporarily lifeless body, calling to mind the effective moment from SCREAM 2 (1997) when Sidney and Hallie are faced with a similar predicament inside of a locked police vehicle. The killer, sort of a cross between Ghostface and Michael Myers, is an expressionless blank canvas dressed entirely in white, and works hard to give the film its R rating with a spate of graphic (but not dour) murder set pieces: we get slashed throats, electrocutions, various stabbings, etc. The bodycount reaches quite a high number, so much so that I'm unable to fulfill that portion of this review from memory (apologies in advance).
Perhaps most amazing is how IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is able to successfully wring out its suspense and slashings in such a short amount of time. Not counting the end credits, the film clocks in at just under eighty minutes, and yet none of it feels rushed. It's zippy and breakneck, and this is in addition to the film stopping between the slasher action to justify its plot with character development. Winnie quickly but believably learns her lesson, so the film is able to have its proverbial turkey dinner without feeling like we've consumed a load of empty calories.
|Justin Long makes a welcome return to horror in Tyler MacIntyre's IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE.|
Said character development and a cast of very likeable leads lend the film a joyful holiday cheer despite the gruesomeness afoot. If you're at all familiar with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and the spate of similar films in its wake (MR. DESTINY, SCROOGED, to name a couple), no great shakes are made to disrupt the status quo, and that's fine. But because the characters are so likeable, so friendly, and so sharply-acted, it almost feels like we're seeing something clever and original when really we're not. Jane Widdop and especially Jess McLeod as the two leads have an exhilarating rapport with one another, giving us two characters amongst several to really root for. As the smarmy real estate agent, Justin Long is an absolute delight in a villainous role. And as Winnie begins to understand that grief is just as important a role in one's life as an idealistic reality - more important, even, and you can't just wish it away - we find ourselves actually hoping for once that the film was maybe ten or twenty minutes longer, a rare case for a slasher movie in which the collectively-preferred run time hovers betwixt eighty and ninety minutes. And really, that may be the film's only failing for this particular reviewer: I wanted to spend more time with these people, not less, which is an achievement even some of the best slashers cannot claim for themselves.
It's not unreasonable to wish for a sequel to such a fun experience, and let's hope the box office numbers outweigh its modest 27m(?) dollar budget and affords us more time with Winnie and crew. But, if this is the last time we see these characters, I can safely say that it's a singular Christmas gift that is sure to keep on giving for many years to come.
Happy Holidays to one and all... See this movie!
female: ... / male: ...
To be continued ...
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