The original “Black Christmas” is one of the most legendary slasher films of all time, so much so that it topped my list of Top 10 Slasher Movies in 2018. It’s been remade before (in 2006) with underwhelming results, but Blumhouse Productions, one of the most notable modern horror studios, decided to give it another shot and adapt it for the 2010s. They’re attempt at breathing new life into the material involves a group of sorority sisters, including Riley (Imogen Poots), who is traumatized by a rape she experienced at the hands of a frat boy, and a feminist named Kris (Aleyse Shannon), who are targeted by several masked assailants during the winter break at their college. The 2019 version of “Black Christmas” attempts to incorporate more prominent feminist themes to make it more relevant, but is it scary or insightful enough to earn its place as a welcome remake of a certified classic? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Black Christmas” 2019.
So, yeah, this wasn’t good. Granted the original slasher film has its detractors who claim it to be nothing but a gore fest, but this new film isn’t even that. There are really several things to break down with this remake. The first is whether or not it’s scary and it just isn’t. Despite being rated R like its predecessors there’s very little blood or graphic violence to behold to win over those seeking that more violent and merciless slasher experience we’ve come to expect. The kills are anticlimactic, the villains are predictable and unmemorable, the characters are either so hollow their forgettable or so over the top their ridiculous exaggerations. There’s just nothing here to satisfy as a horror genre offering. There are some fun jump scares, I personally jumped a few times, but the surprise of these moments is quickly extinguished by the formulaic, predictable and uninventive approach to horror cinema this new “Black Christmas” offers. It also doesn’t help that you can pretty much predict the outcome right from the start. I knew who the villains were right away, and I also immediately called the ridiculous incorporation of supernatural elements that makes the finale feel like an epic cop out.
One thing that has brought this film a lot of attention is its themes, specifically its take on feminism. Where some have found it to be an acceptable way of opening the eyes to the world to a very real issue of gender inequality, for me I thought it fell flat. “Black Christmas” is well intentioned putting the focus on misogyny and the unfortunate culture of toxic masculinity that has permeated American culture over the years but it’s so in your face and aggressive that it comes of as more pandering or annoying than insightful. It should be noted that the film is directed by a woman, notable indie director Sophia Takal who also co-wrote the film, and it is an interesting and timely idea to update this story to include more modern feminist perspectives. However, “Black Christmas” doesn’t do anything really effective with this concept. A lot of the film follows Imogen Poots’ rape victim Riley, who is constantly haunted by the event especially since many people ridicule her as a liar, and Kris, an activist fighting against male dominance. Interesting ideas for characters and motivations if done right, but they’re not done right because those facts I just shared are really where their depth ends. The rest of the cast is even less developed. “Black Christmas” forgoes a lot of subtlety and just doubles down on promoting feminism and the female uprising as well as demonizing the majority of men. It wouldn’t be the first time we saw powerful social issues covered in a horror film but unlike movies like “Get Out” and “MidSommar” which handle their themes with grace and style, “Black Christmas” lacks any sort of tact or grace in how it wants to express it’s message to the world.
I’m all for films exploring timely themes of modern feminism and the #MeToo movement, but a movie like this, it just tries way to hard and does an injustice to everything it’s trying to accomplish whether that’s as a call to arms for feminism or as a straight up horror experience. Such a message, even in a horror movie, is better handled with subtlety allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions maybe even see a creative and balanced way of looking at the problem. “Black Christmas” does noble work by drawing attention to important gender issues, especially the ignorance of law enforcement and society in general when it comes to incidents of rape, but otherwise it makes the mistake of forcing you to respect its message rather than earning your respect. It fails to support it’s ideas with ant semblance of creativity and the writing and script do nothing to draw you in or give you characters to relate to beyond the simplest ideas. I can’t speak for feminism or the struggles of women in society. I am, after all, a guy. But I’ve seen these ideas incorporated into films, even ones with mainstream flair like “Black Christmas” and from all different genres, and all of them have done a better job showcasing these themes more effectively with respect and dignity than what we get with “Black Christmas”.
One thing I can say about this movie is I actually hope I see more films in the future that try to do what this film failed to accomplish but do it right. A lot of what this movie had to say is important for us as viewers to see, but the message deserves to be more focused and handled with more human elements and a better written story. It never takes its time to let its themes develop and breath properly or its characters find their footing. It’s a step forward in bringing these issues to the forefront, but it fails to tell us WHY we should care, why we need to change, or even how these problems are more complex than just simple gender division. It boils all of it’s ideas, whether it’s the message or the horror, down to the simplest result making it a wasted opportunity in more ways than one. Even if you ignore the social commentary the horror elements are as cliché as they get and fail to really offer anything in the way of thrills or excitement. I think I’ll stick with the original film which still remains the superior version by every measure.