Sophia Takal (director)
1h 32mins (length)
13 December 2019 (released)
19 December 2019
The original 1974 Black Christmas was arguably the first film in the 'slasher' horror sub-genre - films high on jump scares and violence, usually featuring one or more female protagonists being hunted down by a ruthless killer.
Now, like most horror classics, it gets an update with a 2019 remake that puts a modern feminist spin on its story of sorority girls facing off against a mysterious murderer.
These include Riley (Imogen Poots), a quiet and nervy resident of a sorority house located within the campus of Hawthorne College, who is traumatised by a past sexual assault.
Three years before the events of the movie, she accused Brian (Ryan McIntyre), then a leader of Hawthorne's 'Founders' Fraternity' of raping her, and wasn't believed - echoing real-life stories of U.S. college officials brushing rape accusations against favourite sons under the beer-sodden carpet.
Her close pal Kris (Aleyse Shannon), expands on another feminist theme by being an extremely 'woke' activist who has successfully campaigned to have the college founder Charles Hawthorne's bust removed from public display due to his slave-owning past.
She has also started a new campaign targeting English tutor Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes), due to his focus on texts by white, male authors. In one lecture, he takes Riley to task over threats to his job, humiliating her in what at first seems a defensive move to protect himself, but which has a hint of something more sinister.
As most students prepare to leave for their Christmas break, women start receiving strange messages from a social media account purporting to be Charles Hawthorne - after which they are hunted down and killed by strange cloaked and masked figures.
These threats become more frequent and begin to target other girls from the sorority after Riley calls out Brian, who has returned to his fraternity for a party, in song during a talent contest. After hearing from a pal's mum that their daughter hasn't made it home, despite being due to leave, Riley spots something amiss - but end of term confusion means she struggles to be believed - just like her past claims were not.
In terms of horror, this remake really isn't up to much. It just isn't particularly scary and the plotline is fairly predictable. There's little to terrify and almost nothing shocking in its gore. At times, it resembles an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with higher production values, rather than a gritty horror.
However, that does not mean there's not some fun to be had if you don't take things too seriously. Poots plays Riley with affecting charm, as she tries to protect her friends, overcome her past, and begin an embryonic romance with geeky misfit Landon (Caleb Eberhardt). Elwes, meanwhile, hams up his role in a way you'd expect from such an accomplished comic performer.
Its themes are also important and its targets not undeserving. While Kris's activism is pitched as irritating, the film makes clear that the alternative - rampant patriarchal bullying and misogyny - is probably worse and closer at hand. Unlike some of the polished shot-for-shot remakes of old '70s horror, this reboot's feminist message gives it a distinctiveness that means it is not an entirely pointless exercise.
As a horror then, Black Christmas is a failure. Yet, as a quirky movie with its heart in the right place, and likeable central characters, it's a diverting and vaguely enjoyable guilty pleasure.