Directed By Eli Roth
Starring – Rick Hoffman, Gina Gershon, Patrick Dempsey
The Plot – After a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy, a mysterious Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts – the birthplace of the infamous holiday.
Rated R for violence involving brutality and gore, adult language, and brief nudity
Ever since “Halloween” cornered the market on holiday themed slasher films, the genre has had a difficult time justifying its unique settings, but “Thanksgiving”, and in particular Eli Roth, conjure a devilishly delicious feast that is entirely self-aware, resulting in a film that is equal parts fun and ferocious. It starts with the setting, which is not only unforgettably present in every visual of the film, with Thanksgiving decorations and costumes maintaining a conscious coherency to the consistency of the engagement, but also prominent in the extent of the creative kills and intentionally on-the-nose dialogue, with puns as pungent with cheese as Roth can capably conjure. If you’re expecting a straight laced horror film that plays everything seriously, you’ve come to the wrong film, and that’s honestly a good thing, as the combination of creativity and overindulgence in the many brutally violent kills, as well as the silliness of the dialogue, implements a preconceived notion to the extent of its 101 minute run time just exactly what audiences are in for, with neither the horror or the comedic elements feeling detrimental to the integrity of one over the other. This is a film that takes full advantage of its R-rated rendering, both in the macabre of the gore, but also the vulgarity of the various punchlines, producing an adult-emphasized engagement that Roth has the time of his life constructing, with flashbacks into 70’s and 80’s B-movie pulp that pays off tremendously for the uniqueness of “Thanksgiving” against contemporary horror. In addition, the storytelling is enhanced by a mystery narrative involving the killer, which begins with an exhillarating introduction on Black Friday, before utilizing motive within the extent of the film’s many eclectic personalities surrounding this masked figure. While the eventual reveal is slightly manipulative by not exactly presenting all of the facts to the forefront of the audience, I can’t help but feel respect in Roth, for crafting a big reveal that I truly didn’t see coming, and one that brings with an against type transformation for one particular cast member. As a killer, John Carver is kind of limited in what makes him stand out from his predecessors, but the ax-wielding antagonist is every bit ruthlessly visceral as they are mysteriously compelling, carving out an X-factor of mystique that makes up for an obvious lack of backstory, with a cunning advantage of persistence and knowledge of the town and its people that keeps the character one step ahead of the opposition at every turn. Lastly, the aforementioned 101 minute run time brisks by with some of the smoothest pacing that maintains urgency on the overarching influence of the narrative, leaving it nearly impossible to feel bored or even tested by the extent of the navigation in the movie’s mystery.
Despite so much fun and creativity from Roth at the helm of another overtly brutal installment to his already grotesque lineup of films, “Thanksgiving” isn’t without fault, with a few disappointing aspects that directly underwhelm the integrity of the film’s unique appeal. For starters, Roth once again refuses to value characterization, so we’re left with a group of mostly shallow and uninteresting types whose only sole purpose is to inspire audible glee to anyone in the audience who are glad when they finally die. Perhaps this is intentional to go with the 80’s B-movie slashers that Roth embraces spoofing, but even in those inspiring predecessors that drive Roth’s creativity, I can usually find one or two who I empathize with against their dangerous killers, and with this film not only being without one who feels endearing or three-dimensional, but also with a bit too many assembled to remain focused on, it solidified a lack of investment to their respective lives, which in turn directly undercut the appeal of the ensemble’s various performances. Beyond this, the reveal of the film, while unpredictable in the way I couldn’t accurately nail down the killer, does feel a bit disjointed and underwhelming in the way they’re eventually revealed, especially with a climax battle for struggle that doesn’t always line up believably with how a couple of sequences are edited together. Between a character walking off a broken ankle, and the killer rivaling Jason Voorhees for teleporative capabilities, the film’s closing moments require a bit more suspension of disbelief than I care to admit, resulting in a sloppy execution during the pivotally memorable moments that I wish were constructed a bit more thoroughly. Finally, while a personal preference, the cinematography of the film definitely lacked the charms of the 2007 Grindhouse trailer for the movie, with the scratches and distortion of an emulated 35mm print to play all the more vividly towards the movie’s cheese factor. Setting this film in modern day certainly takes away the necessity of that desire, but knowing how beautiful “Grindhouse” looked on the big screen sixteen years ago, I can’t help but long for what might’ve been in the aspects that didn’t transfer from that incredible trailer, with the biggest being the visual charms of a gimmick that this movie’s bland visuals can’t even come close to holding a candle to.
“Thanksgiving” is a deep fried dish of R-rated devastation that is best served cold, with campy consistency in tone and unapologetic bowls of brutality forcing the audience to constantly reach for seconds. Though the lack of meaningful characters and fumbling of climactic execution does come with bitter truths to swallow about the growth of Roth’s capabilities as a master storyteller, the charm of a sixteen year old trailer brought to life with the funny and ferocious is enough to give thanks to one of the year’s best slashers.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-