Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
Black Christmas is a cinematic shitstain on the legacy of the legendary 1974 original, trading in that film’s pure and true terror for woefully misguided and salacious social commentary that arrives with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and handles complex issues in the most inappropriate and insensitive manner possible.
Over the past two years, I’ve noticed a troublesome trend in horror movies. Ever since Jordan Peele’s insanely intricate and carefully constructed Get Out took the world by storm with record-breaking box office and an awe-inspiring awards run, a plethora of horror films have tried their hand at tackling similarly serious subject matter to infuse their plot with real-world weight. This isn’t new for the genre by any means, but nuance has all but disappeared and nowadays, it’s hard to find any horror film that doesn’t include a message or a twist about some Important Social Issue in the most didactic approach possible. Some are better than others at balancing genre thrills with topical theatricality (Jordan Peele’s own sophomore feature Us being another example, alongside this year’s wonderfully wry Ready or Not), but for the most part, these attempts at achieving some sort of greater societal significance and “saying something” fall flat on their face (The First Purge and The Perfection first come to mind, and hell, even last year’s Halloween reboot tried to aggressively and oddly rebrand itself as “female empowerment” in its marketing).
Now, I don’t want to wish these audacious attempts away entirely by any means. If someone is as skilled as Peele and weaves social commentary into their film in an effective and subtle way, I think real-world relevance can always bolster an already amazing film. But that’s the thing - your story has to stand on its own, with or without this commentary. Get Out is a terrifying horror movie on its own merits and an expertly crafted analysis on the black experience in America. Peele never forgot to make a great FILM, first and foremost.
Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas however, is no such project.
I don’t want to tear Takal down personally by any means, as I’m sure she and co-writer April Wolfe had the best intentions when they started working on their script. Taking a timeless tale like 1974’s Black Christmas - centered around a group of innocent sorority girls being hunted and murdered by a mysterious male assailant - and infusing it with 2019 sensibilities seemed like a incredible idea. The core story of the original Black Christmas is certainly just as terrifying today, but there are even more dangers for women in the 21st century - especially with technological advancements and the explosion of social media/cyber-harassment - so I can see how Takal and Wolfe would be interested in providing this plot with a fresh coat of paint. Furthermore, updating this narrative for today’s audience would mean giving its characters more agency and urgency - something that would directly appeal to today’s entertainment obsession with “go get em!” girl power. Conceptually, 2019’s Black Christmas seemed to have a decent structure for success.
However, in execution, Black Christmas is a disastrous dud.
Takal and Wolfe’s ideas feel senselessly scattered, as it seems that a bunch of headlines and hashtags were thrown together in a blender and dumped onto the page in order to form the dreadful dialogue its actors are forced to deliver. Characters aren’t fully formed individuals - they’re conduits for the filmmakers to spew out hamfisted social commentary. From censorship to rape culture to #MeToo to #NotAllMen, this movie doesn’t just cover one women’s rights issue - it tackles them all. The film’s positions aren’t just “on the nose” either - they are the nose. And it pains me to criticize this so harshly because I should be in the target audience for a movie like this! I’ve been a massive horror fan since birth and I’m a gender comm scholar - this should be my bread and butter! I have no issues whatsoever with the politics of the film, and I agree wholeheartedly with Takal and Wolfe’s personal beliefs. But alas. Gotta keep it real here, folks. Black Christmas takes massive swings and just whiffs it.
The “twists” and the ultimate endgame of the film are laughably atrocious and the film is too burdened by its adherence to its “serious social critiques” that it can’t even have campy fun with its black magic and cult subplots. It all makes for a dreadfully dull time that not even an overly violent and bombastic climax can save. In the end, I’m really not even sure who this film was for.
Sophia Takal shows some promise as a director (she has a very keen sense of atmosphere in some early scenes) and Imogen Poots and Aleyse Shannon prove to be far more compelling protagonists that their distasteful dialogue would normally allow, but in the end, the film is just a futile flop all around. With a scattershot screenplay, a startling scarcity of scares, erratic editing, and a propensity to use complex social issues for pure shock value, Black Christmas brutalizes the legacy of its phenomenal predecessor.