Movie Review: Black Christmas

You know, in a lot of ways, I actually do really like the idea of this remake of Black Christmas.

In the era of prestige horror, Sophia Takal’s retread of the sorority girl slashfest really feels like a good take on the old premise: set on a modern college campus and picking up on the sisterhood premise of the original, Takal adds a contemporary twist in the tail with a sharp feminist throughline that seeks to explore rape culture on campus and the toxic masculinity of violence like the kind that exists in gorefests like this one. Using the meta-narrative of the final girl slasher framework to explore these themes is a genuinely inspired idea, and with an almost all-female cast and crew, it feels like it’s coming from an authentic place as opposed to wearing its feminism on its sleeve to make a point about its progressive politics.

Black Christmas is one of the most iconic slashers of the seventies, and this isn’t the first time that someone has taken another crack at it (see also: the doomed 2006 clusterfuck of a remake) – but it is the first time, it feels, that someone has really tried something new with this premise. A feminist hot take on a horror classic? It might as well be a fancy invitation mailed directly to my house out of repurposed tampons.

But look, I have to be honest: there are a fuckton of problems here. Black Christmas, for all its ambition, seems to have gotten swept up in the thought of what it’s trying to do instead of the detail work of actually doing it. The script is a hot mess, with even some solid performances (and great chemistry between the sorority sister leads) totally lost in some moderately painful dialogue. While there are some decent scare sequences, the film is simply too short and with too many dead bodies to stack up to really spend the time I wanted building the tension and delivering even the old-school scares it could have had a little fun with.

I really do appreciate any movie that deals with rape and sexual assault in a way that centers the victim and feels non-exploitative (hey, what can I say, I wrote the book on that), and perhaps that is Black Christmas’ biggest strength here – but a lot of the feminist ideas it’s putting forward here are decidedly 101. Which, okay, cinema is hardly graduating with a Master’s in feminist theory these days, but, along with the faltering, blunt nature of the script, a lot of the notions just read as half-baked.

Here’s the thing: I like the idea of this movie more than I like this movie itself. I think that it’s a bold-ass premise for a remake, and a great chance to explore the feminist promise of the horror and especially the slasher genre – but the truth is, Black Christmas jumped to the big ideas before it got the basics down pat. With that said, when it comes to telling these feminist and woman-centric stories in the horror mainstream, we’ve got to start somewhere – and if Black Christmas is just that starting point, then I will sure as hell take it.

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By Louise MacGregor

(header image via ScreenGeek)

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