Hawthorne College is quieting down for the holidays as students travel home to spend time with their families. But as Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) and her sorority sisters prepare to deck the halls with seasonal parties, a mysterious cloaked figure starts to leave a bloody trail throughout the campus. Refusing to become hapless victims, Riley and her friends decide to band together and fight back against the psychotic Christmas killer.
If anybody knows me, then they probably know that I am a big fan of horror movies. On top of that, I am a big fan of horror movies that are centered around the Christmas holiday, or are winter-related. One of my favorite films of 2015 was Michael Dougherty’s devilishly exciting Krampus. While it certainly had its fair share of issues, it was still a highly effective, atmospheric and fun horror flick.
While the Krampus storyline is fairly well known, perhaps just as well known, is the 1974 Bob Clark-directed film Black Christmas. It’s an unsettling and relatively grounded approach to the Christmas horror genre, and it has unnerved audiences for decades. With an incredibly low budget of just $620,000, everything about the film felt authentic. Nothing about it felt like the Hollywood norm. It was creepy and extremely raw.
Throughout the years though, we have gotten a few remakes of this beloved scary story. In 2006, Glen Morgan helmed a retelling of the story, and it was met with overwhelming critical and fan backlash, for its plot and due to its violent nature. Plus, it raised eyebrows due to the release date being Christmas Day.
Now, we have a brand new 2019 reimagining of Black Christmas, this time directed by Sophia Takal. While it is respectably directed and it has a clear vision, it is still absolutely riddled with problems, and is nowhere near as excellent or stylish as the 1974 original.
One of the biggest issues with this picture is its rating. I mentioned earlier how the Morgan directed version of this tale was met with a ton of criticism for being too violent. The opposite is the case this time around. A PG-13 rating genuinely hurt this film. A lot of the kills and violence depicted here is so tame, to the point where you never really feel like you’re watching anything extremely intense.
In the original version, the violence felt realistic. It was bleak and brutal and it got under your skin. Even the Morgan remake had that going for it. But Takal’s film feels so bloodless, which was such a shame. It genuinely felt as if screenwriters Takal and April Wolfe were trying to make a fairly bloody and exciting film, but perhaps studio interference happened, where they wanted to get as many teenagers in the theatre possible. If this was rated R, it would have been a lot more entertaining to watch. It felt like they were really holding things back.
Sadly, Black Christmas also has a ton of frustrating tropes on display. We have the groan inducing character walking down a dark hallway when they shouldn’t trope. We have the running away from a masked killer but the victim trips trope. Finally, we have the trope where somebody sees something creepy appear behind them in a bathroom mirror. It is so annoying to see horror films in the year 2019 still do this. It has never been effective and it never will be. A large portion of this screenplay is like that.
Speaking of the screenplay, it is relatively slow and uneventful. It takes about thirty minutes in this ninety two minute movie for something even remotely creepy to happen. The first half hour of the film honestly kind of came across as some sort of romantic comedy with some dramatic elements sprinkled in. There are numerous scenes where teenagers party, listen to music, and drink coffee together. Watching these scenes, it became apparent that not a lot of fun was going to be had.
It is additionally chalked full of extremely cringe-worthy dialogue that made me wonder how it was even written in the first place. The vast majority of the dialogue not only came across as extremely unnatural, but unintentionally hilarious too.
Now, throughout the film, the screenwriters set up a mystery of sorts. We keep seeing this masked killer walking around at night and inside this sorority house killing innocent women. The problem is that the identity of the villain is kept under wraps for so long, and it shouldn’t have been, because it was blatantly obvious who it was. Whenever certain things are uncovered in the story, they do not shock and surprise, because you already saw it coming. The villain was incredibly predictable.
This is not an entirely awful film, though. One of the biggest praises I can give Black Christmas is the acting on display, particularly by Imogen Poots, who portrays lead character Riley Stone. Not only did she deliver an emotionally charged and riveting performance, but her character was the only one that I actually rooted for. I did not care about any of the other characters, despite the actors doing a good job in their roles.
Also, it does have some really great cinematography by Mark Schwartzbard. His camerawork here is incredibly intricate and well thought out. A ton of the shots throughout this film looked honestly beautiful, and the framing of certain shots were great.
But perhaps the best aspect of this film was its third act. Was it goofy and over the top? Absolutely. But it was honestly a lot of fun to watch and it was what I wished the entire movie was like. It was full of exciting slasher moments and was filmed with a sense of style. It’s really the only time we get to see anything fun happen.
As a whole though, this was a massively disappointing film. It has an immense amount of problems, mainly relating to its script and character department. It has some great cinematography and good acting plus a fun third act. But despite that, I can’t really say that I enjoyed this movie overall, because the negatives were so overwhelming that the movie as a whole greatly suffered.
Black Christmas ends up being a lump of coal with its poor screenplay and weak character development, even if it has some fun moments.
Overall Grade: D+
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror, thematic content involving sexual assault, language, sexual material and drinking
Directed by: Sophia Takal
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 13, 2019 (United States)
Running Time: 92 minutes