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"BLACK CHRISTMAS"
(2019) (Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A college sorority comes under murderous attack after it insults a misogynistic fraternity just before winter break.
PLOT:
One cold night in December, a college co-ed named Lindsay (LUCY CURREY) is walking home from the campus library when she is attacked by a masked, hooded figure who kills her. Because the semester is ending and winter break is about to begin, her sorority sisters don't suspect she's missing until her family calls and asks. Riley (IMOGEN POOTS), who is still reeling from a night in which she was drugged and date-raped by frat jock Brian (RYAN McINTYRE) a couple of years earlier, immediately has a bad feeling that this is something more than just a random disappearance.

Her anxiety is heightened when she saves one of her best friends, Helena (MADELEINE ADAMS), from also being sexually assaulted by her frat-guy boyfriend. Nevertheless, she agrees to perform a parody of "Santa Baby" at a college holiday party in which she and her sorority sisters Kris (ALEYSE SHANNON), Marty (LILY DONOGHUE), and Jesse (BRITTANY O'GRADY) have changed the words to make the song about rape culture. They direct the tune at the fraternity members in the room.

Soon, other members of the sorority start going missing and are presumed murdered, including Helena. Suspects abound. Not just the frat brothers, but misogynist English Professor Gelson CARY ELWES), who feminist Kris is trying to get fired; Marty's put-upon boyfriend, Nate (SIMON MEAD); and too-good-to-be-true nice guy Landon (CALEB EBERHARDT). But the true nature of what's going on at this college goes much deeper and darker than that.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
For films not screened for the reviewing press, we only provide a few paragraphs of critical analysis.

This is the second remake of the 1974 cult horror flick "Black Christmas" in which the basic premise is a group of sorority sisters nearing winter break get stalked in their own sorority house by a shadowy killer. I'll give the 2019 update points for updating the narrative and bringing it into the MeToo/Woke era. This time around, the sisters are the target of an evil fraternity full of date rapists, misogynistic jocks, and mindless male pledges who are seeing their patriarchal society crumble before their very eyes. It's an angry film that unfortunately gets bogged down in both toxic masculinity and toxic femininity messaging to the point where even the B-movie genre elements are treated with joyless disdain.

Still, I acknowledge that there was an attempt made here to deliver something a bit more substantial than just your run-of-the-mill slasher flick. It's too bad director and co-writer Sophia Takal couldn't have found a better balance between messaging and entertaining. She certainly has the courage of her convictions. But imagine how good a film she could have made had she also had the courage to attack a few of her convictions and deliver some late-game subversive surprises. The opportunity was there.

Better writing is really the only thing that could've saved this "Black Christmas." Because it certainly wasn't the cast, who bring little spark to the material. Imogen Poots is the dead-eyed lead. She plays Riley, an orphaned co-ed still recovering emotionally from being drugged and date-raped a couple of years earlier by a smug, slick boy frat guy named Brian (Ryan McIntyre) who returns to campus to take part in a mysterious hazing ritual. Riley's sorority sisters are mostly one-note characters, who don't get much screen time to play their one notes. Among them are: feminist activist Kris (Aleyse Shannon), who's spearheading a petition to get a conceited male professor (Cary Elwes) fired; best pal Helena (Madeleine Adams), who Riley saves from a near date rape; and athlete Marty (Lily Donoghue), who's able to thoroughly control her boyfriend Nate (Simon Mead).

The film brings in a supernatural element in its third act that would have had my audience groaning loudly in their seats… er, had I saw it with more than three people in the theater. I was impressed that Takal paid homage to a particularly scary scene from one of my favorite underrated horror movies "The Exorcist III" from 1990. And there were moments sprinkled throughout that were nicely shot and edited for suspense over gore (and likely to keep the film from garnering an R rating). But for the most part, this is a missed opportunity that maybe in a decade or so can be remade yet again and finally deliver a welcome gift to moviegoers. I give this latest a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed December 12, 2019 / Posted December 13,2019


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