[review by Joseph Henson]
|The Carver lives up to his name in Eli Roth's THANKSGIVING.|
If the OG mock trailer for THANKSGIVING (circa GRINDHOUSE (2007)) was the golden slasher goose that filled our proverbial bellies, this THANKSGIVING (2023) is the three day leftovers on the verge of rotting in the fridge. Consume at your own risk!
Plymouth, Mass. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming to a close, the staff at RightMart (a play on a certain big box retailer) are prepping to fend off the Black Friday mob. With lax security and a crowd of mindless consumers going ape poopie over the promise of a free waffle iron, the store is swarmed and a riot quickly escalates, leaving a handful of injuries and dead bodies in its wake. A year passes, and a group of teens and various townsfolk partially responsible for the melee find themselves stalked by someone wearing a John Carver mask and decked out in full Pilgrim gear, his sights set on brutally righting the wrong from the previous Thanksgiving holiday. So far, so good. The town sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) suspects the new kid in town, though new kid's girlfriend isn't so sure. With the help of her friends, she aims to recover the mysteriously deleted security footage from the day of the store stampede to help clear his name and to hopefully unmask the true identity of the maniac, before she and her friends find themselves carved up like cooked turkeys.
|A well-organised campaign of slaughter in THANKSGIVING.|
What's surprising about THANKSGIVING is how well director Eli Roth handles all of the tropes of 80s and 90s slashers without condescending to them or the audience waiting to gorge. Roth is well-known for blending the horrific with comedy that often undermines or even scoffs at the terror on display, but thankfully the humor in THANKSGIVING gels nicely - the opening swarm of rabid shoppers at the mass merchandiser elicits great laughs on top of winces. There's something to be said about using real-life catastrophes and current social bugaboos to tell a slasher story: if you play it too seriously, it feels preachy. If you don't take it seriously enough, the point becomes lost. Thankfully, the comedic elements here, like soft-focusing on store signs advertising the latest Black Friday deals (slashing prices, for example) whilst people are trampled left, right, and center by narrow-minded consumers makes for great black comedy, as do scenes with the killer turning his victims into a Thanksgiving table centerpiece. John Carver, the masked merauder so deadly with the blade of an axe, is taken very seriously whilst the carnage he hath wrought is played for obscene gore gags and gallows humor, effectively I might add. Following the opening incident, we're treated to a wild assortment of slasher movie murders centered around the Thanksgiving holiday, from a parade gone (bloody) wrong, to an unfortunate victim delicately buttered, garnished, and stuffed into an oven to broil. Decapitations, impalements, stabbings, they are aplenty; in fact, most (if not all) of the gags from the OG trailer are present and accounted for, and we even get not one but two effective chase sequences, one set at a high school that ends inside of a classroom full of mannequin heads and garish wigs (like, okay?), and a stray can of hairspray that immediately calls to mind a nail-biting moment from the underseen slasher from 1999, LIGHTHOUSE (aka DEAD OF NIGHT). Fans of THE PROWLER (1981) will also spot a similar scene with one victim hiding from the killer who is mere inches away with a big pitchfork, and Roth kisses the lips of MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) with a similar love triangle shtick as well. The tributes are all here, and they're all really lovely, warm-hearted, and fun!
|Eli Roth pays tribute to slasher movies of the 80s and 90s, but doesn't recreated the Grindhouse look of his famous 2007 faux trailer.|
But, you know what? As the movie went along, I, unfortunately, found myself not really caring as much as I should, and I think it's down to a disturbingly-muddled story with way too many characters, all of whom I might add resemble one another so much, I had to mentally measure the length of their hair to tell them apart. The central Maguffin driving much of the plot lies in the lead characters recovering security footage from the store riot and posting it to social media in order to flush out the killer. But the details - and names involved - become so confusing and haphazardly presented, that I sank in my chair, wishing they would have instead played this as simply as possible, perhaps like a certain mock trailer did way back in 2007, in all of its faux-analogue glory. The inclusion of technology and using social media to your advantage adds an unnecessary wrinkle to what should be a cut-and-dried slasher movie yarn. The characters, thankfully, are a mostly affable bunch, and I was beyond relieved that Roth decided to go for a genial tone with them, rather than cynical. But at the end of the day, I couldn't remember their names, let alone their faces, so why should I care? Furthermore, when the table is set for the grand finale, things move much too quickly to reach an abrupt conclusion (the editor did this movie's denouement no favors), and the unmasking of the killer's identity will likely not jar you from your tryptophan-induced nap!
Moreover, it's anyone's guess as to why they decided to go with a more modern look and feel with this iteration, when the whole retro joie de vivre is all the rage these days, and certainly was one of the main selling points of that OG trailer. The kill scenes and chase sequences hit the right notes, but the crisp photography undermines, I think. This is a story that begs to be as Grindhouse as possible, and your bread and butter audience want to see those blemishes as much as they want to relive those simpler, cheap thrills, and I think by reworking the best bits of that wonderful trailer into something with financial polish sort of sidesteps the point. I would have traded the Instagram gags and the professional lighting for film cigarette burns and bad acting in a heartbeat!
Still, there's more than enough of the good stuff here to make yourself a warm plate of slasher movie nourishment; THANKSGIVING is a crowd-pleaser at heart (if not of mind), and I can only hope it will set something of a template for a holiday-themed slasher movie revival (FOUNDERS DAY is just around the corner, so we're heading in the right direction).
So, microwave those leftover mashed potatoes and green beans with caution: THANKSGIVING (2023) will most likely hit the spot, until you suddenly find yourself darting for the nearest toilet.
female: ... / male: ...
To be continued ...
Thank you for reading! And, if you've enjoyed this review, please consider a donation to help keep Hysteria Lives! alive! Donate now with Paypal.