Before I get too deep into this, let me just say one thing. If I see one more tweet about horror not being political, or how art and politics shouldn’t cross, I’m going to lose my mind. Yes, I’m looking at Joe Bob Briggs and his airheaded tweet about how the horror of yesteryear was just horror and not political. No, Mr. Briggs, maybe you shouldn’t have to be told how to watch a movie. But by failing to give the creators the credence that their original vision allows for, you may be missing more than what your interpretation gives you.
Horror, like any other art form, is often a reflection of the horrors of the world. After the rise of serial murderers and the sensationalization of violence in the sixties and the seventies came the onslaught of all of our favorite slasher films. The atrocities of Guantanamo and “enhanced interrogation” brought forth the “torture porn” subgenre that birthed franchises such as SAW and Hostel. As such, the #MeToo movement and the third wave of feminism and female empowerment (the latter of which, mind you, is far from a new phenomenon) brings us the re-imagining of Black Christmas. The original 1974 Bob Clark picture could be considered the first true slasher film, and the 2006 remake was a nice try, but not much to write home about, if we’re being honest.
College senior Riley (Imogen Poots) is spending her holiday break in her sorority house among friends. Three years after her rape, she is struggling with the aftereffects, and when her attacker is due back in town for his fraternity’s showcase, Riley’s sisters decide to take justice to the stage. Their performance angers the DKO boys, setting off a string of attacks that see several female Hawthorne College students dead. As the body count rises like the falling snow, Riley and her sisters uncover secrets of the two-century-old university that serve to horrify them. Will the girls be able to enjoy their holiday, or will they wind up another statistic in this string of killings?
I know I was one of many that was disappointed by the announcement of this film’s PG-13 rating, and I can only hope that the longer R-rated cut will make its way to home video before long. And I would watch said R-rated cut happily. Even with its PG-13 rating, the violence manages to be its own brand of gruesome, even in a film where horror violence isn’t the first selling point. I realize that I am in the minority when it comes to this film, and I’m fine with that. I went past the internet critics (yes, the irony that I am one of said critics is not lost on me) and the armchair directors, all of the cries of “those damn SJWs are ruining a classic” and what have you.
And there is a lot to love about this film, once you get past all of the bullshit that has been heaped on it by its critics, mostly men who long for the good ol’ days. Not naming any names that I haven’t already, that is.
Riley’s sexual assault is a central point of the story, not a B plot, but more of a 1a plot of sorts. It is not handled as a “poor, pitiful me” moment. Her flashbacks are something that victims of post-traumatic stress disorder face in their lives post-trauma, and if they make the viewer uncomfortable, congratulations, that’s the point. The flashbacks are never gratuitous, but they are nevertheless unsettling. The way that words of victims and advocates are twisted by the DKO boys, namely the line “your body, your choice” in a conversation about submission and servitude, is a clever bit of writing by Takal and co-writer April Wolfe. The revisiting of the theme of “no one will believe you if you tell them,” a line that gets dropped on victims of sexual assault all too often, is another fine plot device.
As far as what this film does differently, I was thrilled about one of the attackers using a bow and arrow. A silent ranged weapon used outside of a backwoods slasher? I’m in. It was an interesting way to get away from the knives wielded by slasher antagonists trope, and it made for some fun kills. Major points also go to the scene when Frannie is alone in the house, before we see that one of the masked assailants is on the hunt for her in the sorority house. The cinematography, with its ever so slow pan left, before closing in on Frannie and her demise, was a great visual choice, especially given the wide one-shot that drives forward the unease of the scene.
For anyone that has gotten this far and disagrees with me, if your argument has anything to do with the movie being “too feminist” or “not realistic,” please take your opinion elsewhere. I could dig up loads of examples of how that’s just not a solid leg to stand on, but I’ll settle on this: even the original 1974 picture had a subplot with a girl contemplating an abortion. I admit that I wouldn’t have called it before seeing it for myself, but this iteration of Black Christmas manages to take a political, societal message and a solid slasher, mix them together, and make a winner out of it.
Though the damage may have already been done by the feathers it ruffled leading up to its release, I feel as though this may be a film that is held in higher regard as the years go on, much like Jennifer’s Body was a decade prior. It’s a shame that the horror world at large hasn’t come around to this one yet, but better late than never, I suppose.