By: Kayla Caldwell
These days, a college campus can be quite the scary place - not only because of the sheer volume of teens (someone one of my biggest fears as I age?), but also the normality of sexual assault. It’s not even a headline at this point, just something women have to deal with every day.
So, it’s no surprise that the Sophia Takal’s remake of BLACK CHRISTMAS is set there. And of course, since everything happens right around Christmas break, campus is emptier and, therefore, spookier than usual. However, being alone isn’t exactly the problem.
Sorority girls Riley (Imogen Poots), Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Jesse (Brittany O’Grady), and Marty (Lily Donoghue) are getting too much attention - in the form of DMs - from some mysterious person masquerading as Hawthorne, the long-dead founder of their college.
Riley and Kris have also caught the less-than-loving attention of Professor Gelson (a very NOT “As You Wish”-era Cary Elwes), a literature instructor hell-bent on teaching only the “classics,” aka works written by white men, and white men only. There’s a great moment where Kris questions, “Who decides what are the classics? Whose classics are they? They’re not mine.”
It’s a fair point, albeit one argued even by Marty, her sorority sister. That internalized misogyny rears its ugly head yet again, like Harry Potter in the invisibility cloak, except it isn’t stealing a lollipop from Neville Longbottom (poor Neville!). Instead, it’s making women - smart, educated women like Marty - argue against their own interests.
However, books would soon be the last thing on Marty and Kris’s minds, as they start to notice sorority sisters (and not only from their house!) going missing. Of course, the campus security doesn’t believe Riley, openly mocking her when she says something feels wrong. God forbid a woman mention her feelings, right? “We don’t deal in feelings here,” he says, brushing off her concerns, despite the fact that her friend Helena’s family had called saying she hadn’t made it home.
Things get even worse after a Mean Girls-style Christmas performance at the founding father’s frat house upsets all of the fragile male egos. That is, except that of sweet cinnamon roll Landon (Caleb Eberhardt), who is adorably awkward, tells dad jokes, and clearly has a crush on Riley. Why can’t all men be Landons? I digress.
There’s a bit of Harriet the Spy (or if we go more recently, Search Party) energy as the women try to figure out what happened to their lost friends - culminating in a very awkward run-in between Professor Gelson and Riley that is basically the definition of f*ck politeness. And then… all hell breaks loose.
To keep things vague, I will say there are lots of visions of black robes, pledge paddles, and spooky symbols that actually made me grateful to be long since out of college. (In my notes, I literally just wrote, “frats are so f**king scary.)
I won’t spoil anything for you, because I know I certainly wasn’t expecting BLACK CHRISTMAS to go in the direction that it did, and I want your surprise to be just as genuine. However, I will say that a lot of men are going to hate this movie. The phrases “It’s not like the original” and “They should’ve left the franchise alone,” will reverberate throughout message boards across the land. If you listen quietly, you might even hear the vitriolic screams of fanboys the world over.
However, they would be missing the point. It’s not supposed to be like the original. It’s a horror movie with a contemporary, social commentary. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a horror movie! I held my breathe in suspense and anticipation. I jumped (literally) in my seat, and saw others in the theater doing the same. At one point, I even gasped, and covered my mouth like a shocked southern belle.
There are also trippy 70s-slasher-esque kills, such as when one character gets taken out by a really sharp icicle - not unlike the “perfect murder” discussed in The Lovely Bones. Other weapons used in the film include a bow and arrow, a menorah, Christmas lights, and a broken broom. So for all you gore-heads out there, your quota should be filled just fine.
What I believe many amateur reviewers are forgetting is that the film’s producer, Blumhouse, also produced Get Out. Social commentary is in, my friends, as it should be, with our current climate. So if you’re looking for a “classic” horror movie that hasn’t advanced in theme and message since the 70s then, well… jut go watch a movie from the 70s?
BLACK CHRISTMAS is decidedly not that. It is a fresh take on an old trope, and one that will allow many women to breathe a sigh of relief, because, wow, they are not the only ones who feel this way.
And for the men who will inevitably complain that it’s simply “male bashing,” you are also missing the point. (Also, I’d like to note that I never cry “women bashing” watching old films like When a Stranger Calls or Halloween, which primarily focus on brutally murdering female babysitters.) It’s not about all men being evil, but rather, the lack of support for women by the “good guys” when things are going wrong.
You want that “nice guy” title? Well, sorry to tell you, but you can’t just give it to yourself. You’ve got to earn it if you want to be a Landon. Otherwise, you’re going to be lumped in there with the Brians, Chads, and Professor Gelsons.
And if you’re ambivalent to the current political climate all together, guess what? You can still enjoy BLACK CHRISTMAS. Because, at its heart, BLACK CHRISTMAS is a true, holiday horror. It’s thematic, it’s creepy af, and it’ll make your pulse race for about 90 minutes.
What better way could there be to celebrate a Friday the 13th in December? BLACK CHRISTMAS is in theaters now.
(All Images Courtesy of Universal Pictures)