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BLACK CHRISTMAS *

Directed by Sophia Takal. Starring Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Cary Elwes.
Horror, U.S., 92 minutes, certificate 15.

In cinemas UK from December 12th 2019.

 

Bob Clark’s 1974 seasonal chiller was one of the original slashers, its influence in the genre ranging far and wide; from its final girl standoff, POV shots putting the viewer in the killers headspace during extended stalking scenes resulting in the deaths of a young teenage cast and its ambiguous ending it could be argued that it is ground zero for much of what we enjoy and sometimes take for granted in the genre four decades later.

 

It is one of those rare titles that however influential it is it never gained longevity through the franchise route. Instead, we have been witness to two remakes, the last vanishing into obscurity immediately after its 2006 release. However, the term of remake must be very loosely applied here as Sophia Takal’s take on the seasonal slasher has only its campus and seasonal setting in common with its forebears. Sadly the only common thread it shares is with the 2006 remake in its failure to match up to the original and its inevitable slide into obscurity.

 

Perhaps though in the years to come it might be looked back upon with interest as a product of its time. This is very much a film with a narrative that is born out of #metoo and the troubling headline-making stories of sexual assault springing from the frat boy campus culture. It is a commendable step to shine a spotlight on such a horrifyingly prevalent issue and one which has been tackled onscreen as recently as Jennifer Kent’s THE NIGHTINGALE and Coralie Fargeat’s hallucinatory REVENGE. Takal’s attack on sexual violence and oppression via the patriarchy here comes at the expense of a narrative that flounders with delivering both an underwritten storyline, with reams of expository dialogue delivered offscreen as an obvious example of post-production tinkering, and ineptness in delivering scares and even mild thrills.

 

Die hard fans of the original will find nothing here to remind them of the original or even anything that comes across as a fresh perspective on its story. The fact that the story veers off into an entirely new and unexpected but ultimately unsatisfying direction may instead remind them of the far more satisfying READY OR NOT from earlier this year. When concentrating on Imogen Poots protagonist Riley and her struggles after suffering an attack in her recent past the film seems intent in examining the divide between the sexes on campus while taking a sideways look at cancel culture with Riley’s fraternity sister Kris, Aleyse Shannon, a student with her own track record of protesting against the more politically incorrect aspects of the colleges history. When their own fraternity comes under attack from hooded and robed figures who seem particularly irked with the simple fact of them making a stand for what is right the stage seems to be set for a literal battle of the sexes.

 

Instead, we are witness to a slowly paced unfolding of events that mishandles its scares and thanks to lacklustre direction flounders badly when presenting its twists and turns with a complete lack of mystery. Suspense is non-existent, and its thinner than paper storyline fails in holding the interest or sympathy of the viewer, especially with its cliched cast of supporting characters who fail to hold a candle to that of the original with its exciting cast of cult favourites which included Margot Kidder and John Saxon. The most familiar face here aside from Poots is Cary Elwes as a smarmy classics professor with an embarrassing English accent that he somehow manages to deliver with a straight face.

 

This iteration may have been delivered with the best intentions but is a misfire when compared not only to the original but also to other recent entries from the Blumhouse studio. It lacks the socio-political bite of GET OUT, the breezy irreverence of the HAPPY DEATH DAY films and a clear look at PTSD which was examined nicely through the recent reappearance of Jamie Lee Curtis in last years HALLOWEEN. The fact that BLACK CHRISTMAS comes nowhere close to these or the original on an entertainment level alone provides enough of an excuse to stay away and look for your scares elsewhere at this particular time of the year.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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