Black Christmas (2019)
Directed By: Sophia Takal
Written By: Sophia Takal, April Wolfe
I’m a big believer in looking at a remake on it’s own merits. It’s not an easy thing to do, however. It’s nearly impossible when you are talking about a remake of Black Christmas. In 1974, Bob Clark released a film that is nothing short of an essential classic for horror fans. There is a lot of debate as to what film is the true first slasher movie. I don’t think there is much debate that Clark’s Black Christmas is the first modern slasher movie. Black Christmas had a major impact on John Carpenter’s Halloween which, in turn, had an enormous impact on Friday the 13th, which is the movie that inspired a billion imitators and shot the sub-genre into the stratosphere. When you’re remaking a movie like that, it’s not easy to avoid comparisons to the original.
In fairness to the 2019 film, it does some interesting things to update the premise of the original. The 1974 film relies heavily on obscene and prank phone calls, which have basically become a thing of the past now that we all have caller ID in our pockets. In the updated version the sorority house doesn’t get obscene phone calls, they get anonymous DMs instead. It’s a simple change but it’s quite effective. In fact, I was mostly on-board with this movie through the first half or so. At about that point, it completely veers away from the story of the original and goes off in it’s own, rather ludicrous, direction.
This is the second remake of Black Christmas, the first being the 2006 film from Glen Morgan. In both cases, the films can best be described as a loose remake. Neither one is content to stick to the rather simple narrative laid out in the original. Both the 2006 and 2019 movies feel the need to add on layers that were not present in Clark’s film and both of them are worse off for it. In 2006 they attempted to add backstory and, by extension, reason to the murders. In this new take we get backstory and reason along with a heavy dose of social commentary. And I do mean a HEAVY dose of social commentary. Lots of great horror films have been made when a filmmaker has decided to turn a critical eye to the world that we live in and the idea of using Black Christmas as a vehicle to explore the way that men treat women is a really smart one. It’s a film that cries out for that kind of subtext.
That’s something that comes up over and over as I think about this film. There are a number of really solid ideas but none of them are executed properly. The audience is beaten to death with the message of this film from beginning to end. There is no subtlety to it at all. Everything seems to take a backseat to the message which leaves us with dialogue that doesn’t work, characters that feel flat and, eventually, a climax that just left me shaking my head in disbelief. None of the actors seem comfortable in their roles and I think a lot of that has to do with the ridiculous dialogue they are trying to make sound natural. The further this remake gets from it’s source material the more comically bad it gets.
A lot has been made of the PG-13 rating this movie received. Anytime a horror movie gets that PG-13 label there is going to be people arguing about it. For my part, I don’t care one way or the other. There have been plenty of really good PG-13 horror movies and sometimes it actually helps make the film better by forcing the director to come up with more creative ways to do things. Overall, I would say that Black Christmas is really only hurt by the rating in one scene. There is a kill early in the film that happens in the snow. It’s shot beautifully and looks great in it’s own right but I couldn’t help but think about how incredible it would look with dark red blood against the pure white snow. Other than that one instance, I don’t think the movie suffered at all, and honestly that shot is still probably the best thing in the entire film.
Director Sophia Takal and her co-writer April Wolfe had some big ideas for their version of Black Christmas. They wanted it to be something more than just another slasher film and I will never fault anyone for their ambition. Unfortunately for them, their desire to make this more than a slasher film led to too much clutter and poor execution. Ambition is a great thing, unless you promise more than you can deliver.
WOULD I SURVIVE? It seems highly unlikely. Nearly every single male character is killed off in this one and I don’t see any reason why things would turn out differently for me. Honestly, I barely survived the mere act of watching this movie.