BLACK CHRISTMAS is the latest film from co-writer/director Sophia Takal (New Year, New You), which is also co-written by April Wolfe and is a modern reimagining of the 1974 classic horror slasher of the same name. The film stars Imogen Poots (Green Room), Aleyse Shannon (The CW’s “Charmed”), Lily Donoghue (The CW’s “Jane the Virgin”), Brittany O’Grady (Fox’s Star), Simon Mead (Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story), Caleb Eberhardt (Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle”), and Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Saw). To best describe the plot, I’ll turn to the official synopsis:
“Hawthorne College is quieting down for the holidays. But as Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) and her Mu Kappa Epsilon sisters – athlete Marty (Lily Donoghue), rebel Kris (Aleyse Shannon), and foodie Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) – prepare to deck the halls with a series of seasonal parties, a black-masked stalker begins killing sorority women one by one. As the body count rises, Riley and her squad start to question whether they can trust any man, including Marty’s beta-male boyfriend, Nate (Simon Mead), Riley’s new crush Landon (Caleb Eberhardt) or even esteemed classics instructor Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes). Whoever the killer is, he’s about to discover that this generation’s young women aren’t about to be anybody’s victims.”
Let me first start by saying that this is not a shot-for-shot remake. Honestly, I wouldn’t even call it a remake so much as I would call it a re-imagination. It takes aspects that are familiar and iconic from the first film and re-introduces them to a new generation. Those familiar with the original 1974 film will know that it was hugely impactful at the time of its release (and all the years to follow) in showcasing characters dealing with issues that many would find to be controversial. We have Barb, portrayed by Margot Kidder, who enjoys her alcohol a little too much and who may be riding that fine line of alcoholism. Then there is Jess, played by Olivia Hussey, who learns that she’s pregnant and decides that her best course of action is to have an abortion. These were aspects of the original movie that, in a huge way, helped in solidifying the legacy and following that the film has. At its core, there is a feminist quality to the film and that aspect is important to note because, in this new 2019 film, I feel it’s trying to echo the same themes surrounding the importance of women’s rights.
As with the original, BLACK CHRISTMAS takes place at a college where a group of sorority sisters prepares for Christmas break. Early on, we see as one of the sisters disappear after coming face-to-face with a masked assailant while walking home from the library. This act alone sets in motion what is soon to befall the rest of the sorority. We then meet Riley, a dedicated sister who has recently gone through a traumatic experience, involving a fraternity brother from Delta Kappa Omega, that has shaped her into the person she is today. Imogen Poots does a phenomenal job of bringing Riley to life by showing both her vulnerable side as well as her fierce side. I think most women can relate on some level to what Riley has gone through and if not, they at least know of someone who has. She is surrounded by a solid and stable group of sisters, each with their own trademark persona. There is Kris who is always fighting for justice, never mincing her words, and finding herself in hot water when she goes head-to-head with Professor Gelson after realizing he only teaches classic literature written by white males. There’s Marty, the athlete who always has a smile on her face and a loving boyfriend by her side and is always protective of her sorority sisters. Rounding out the core cast is Jesse, a woman with her head in the clouds who means well but sometimes gets caught in the throes of having a good time. Then, of course, there is the Delta Kappa Omega fraternity filled with men who not only ignore the rules of consent and respect but harbor a secret capable of destroying the lives of many.
What Sophia Takal and April Wolfe have created with BLACK CHRISTMAS is a film that celebrates feminism while also blatantly reminding men that their time of harassing, taking advantage, assaulting, and belittling women is up. There is no pussy-footing around the topics at hand and though I enjoy how outright the themes are, I can understand why some would maybe appreciate a subtler approach. That said, I do believe that we are living in a time where women must be vigilant in having their voices heard and I immensely respect both Takal and Wolfe for being unapologetic in the way in which they showcase the importance of women’s rights issues.
I think the most startling moment which conveys both women speaking out and the reaction of men is when our main cast takes the stage at a Delta Kappa Omega party and performs a beautiful rendition of a holiday song where they change the lyrics to humiliate one of the brothers for sexually assaulting Riley. Watching how Riley is affected by seeing her assaulter in the audience and then finding the strength to continue on with her performance is both harrowing and inspiring, resulting in that scene becoming one of the strongest moments in the film. In fraternities, especially, toxic masculinity has the tendency to run rampant and with everything going on in the world today (looking at you Donald), many of these men think they can do whatever they want without consequence while laughing at the thought of consent. Knowing that a huge chunk of the population has that mindset is one that many women (as well as other marginalized groups) deal with on a constant basis. So to have a film that shows a group of badass women taking down that form of patriarchy is one of the reasons that I think a film such as this is so important right now.
That’s not to say that BLACK CHRISTMAS is perfect. It has its flaws and for me, the most glaring one was the introduction of a supernatural arc. Due to just wanting to preserve the true extent of the depth of that arc, I won’t go too into detail. The arc itself just left a lot to be desired when placed in the context of the rest of the film’s overt realism. will say that I do like that Takal and Wolfe tried something different, but I think, in this aspect, it just missed it’s landing. However, I will admit, there was a twist that I really enjoyed that put the importance of trusted sisterhood in question. I also really appreciated how Takal and Wolfe made sure to insert real-life moments of safety that many women face on a day-to-day basis. The most prominent one being the holding of car keys in case anyone tries to assault us while we walk to our car and/or home. I’m sure many men (and even some women) will see those moments and not think much about them but it allows for us to have a conversation about why those minute aspects are hugely impactful. Who knows, a discussion about that may lead to someone realizing the horrors that women have to possibly be prepared for.
All in all, if you go into BLACK CHRISTMAS hoping to experience the full nostalgia of the original, you will be disappointed, because this isn’t what that film is. That’s not to say there aren’t easter eggs throughout that cater to those searching for hints of the original, but overall, this film is a whole different beast. And guess what? That’s okay.
I know it might seem crazy to some of you, but both these movies (and even the 2006 remake) can exist without people going to war over it. I felt like this film also captured the essence of female empowerment that was so ingrained in the original, and that, to me, was something that I found to be incredibly important. I know a lot of people were up in arms about this being rated PG-13, but to be honest, that didn’t really affect how I viewed the film. There is still quite a lot of violence as well as some pretty rad kill scenes and even a jump scare that reminded me a lot of a certain famous scene from The Exorcist III. All that said, BLACK CHRISTMAS is an unapologetic horror slasher that takes on the dangers of male toxicity while showcasing the strength and determination that so many women possess. I’m here to embrace the film even with all its flaws and I hope that in the years to come people will realize just how important a film like this truly is.
BLACK CHRISTMAS arrives in theaters on December 13, 2019.
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