Aleyse Shannon in Black Christmas (Photo: Universal)
★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Sophia Takal
STARS Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon
The 1974 Canadian effort Black Christmas, starring Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder as two of the sorority sisters in a house that also harbors a killer, is one of the best in the endless cycle of slasher flicks, largely because it arrived before the genre got set in its tired and overly familiar parameters. (The nice virgin who survives in every post-Halloween picture? Forget it — here, she’s the first one to go.) I never saw the loose 2006 remake (though the plot synopsis makes it sound perfectly dreadful, what with small children getting raped and disfigured), but here we are with yet another version.
Give this Black Christmas points for not only trying to be different but also attempting to add some social commentary into the slasher genre. Then take them away for devolving into sheer idiocy.
Written (with April Wolfe) and directed by Sophia Takal, this feminist slant on the story centers on Riley Stone (Imogen Poots), a sorority sister who has largely withdrawn into herself following her rape by a popular frat boy (Ryan McIntyre). Naturally, no one believes her except for her closest friends — chief among them is Kris (Aleyse Shannon), an outspoken student who petitioned to have the bust of the sexist college founder removed from public display and is now working on a petition calling for the dismissal of a misogynistic English professor (Cary Elwes) who refuses to teach any books written by women. Soon, a hooded figure (or figures) begins murdering female students, and Kris eventually discovers that it all leads back to the university’s original Men’s Rights Activist.
As long as it remains grounded in reality, Black Christmas is a bravura variation of the original tale, tapping into the #MeToo movement with its forceful ideals and sympathetic protagonist (there’s even a scene that knocks the “Not all men” retort). But matters go seriously awry in the second half, when a supernatural element is added to the proceedings. It’s arbitrary, ludicrous and wholly unnecessary, and it in effect defangs the picture’s piercing POV.
Too bad. Black Christmas initially appears to be the cinematic equivalent of spiked eggnog, but by the end, it’s as uninviting as a mass-produced fruitcake a decade past its expiration date.