Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Thanksgiving. A time to spend with family and friends. Reflect on what you’re thankful for. Think about how you can be more giving. But for some, Thanksgiving is merely the day before Black Friday. A day to line-up and wait outside a store for deals.
This is exactly how Writer-Director Eli Roth introduces us to the community of Plymouth, Massachusetts. It’s Thanksgiving night but Superstore Owner (Rick Hoffman) stays open to start his Black Friday sale early. The majority of the town has gathered outside demanding the doors open. But things escalate when Jessica (Nell Verlaque), the owner’s daughter, allows her friends into the store early. When the angry mod notices, they tackle the store breaking the glass doors. A violent riot ensues inside that turns deadly. Now a year later, an axe-wielding person behind a John Carver mask begins killing those they believe are responsible for that deadly night.
Thanksgiving is a feast for Horror fans. Roth has set the table with the tastiest food and the most intoxicating drinks. Making for a gleeful Horror-Comedy viewing experience. You’ll laugh. You’ll grimace. You’ll feel the need to look away, yet you’ll refuse to.
Those familiar with Roth’s previous work, such as Hostel and his re-telling of The Green Inferno in 2013, will know he never shies away from brutal and inventive killings. Thanksgiving is no exception. The Black Friday opening riot sets us up for the horrific violence to come. Yet, there’s one murder that you could never prepare for. Without giving too much away, the scene fits the tone and theme of the Film so perfectly you’ll be shocked you didn’t see it coming. The lead-up is anxiety-inducing and the pay-off is equal measures mesmerizing and nauseating.
The Slasher genre has been around for a long time. The archetypes are set in stone. Roth uses these archetypal characters, such as the evil stepmother and the jock, however, he makes them three-dimensional and his Cast plays into their archetypes while humanizing them. Making for fresh takes on beloved traits. For example, Patrick Dempsey (who gives a strong performance) never allows his Sheriff Newlon to fall into the category of dumb detective. Instead, he’s competent and effective. It’s just the killer is always a few steps ahead. Even the killer themselves — once revealed — has a reason for their madness. Something that doesn’t always happen in many slashers.
Horror fans used to watching Slashers might already know who’s behind the John Carver mask early on. But even if you know, it’s still part of the fun. Knowing who it is and wondering when the group of teenagers will figure it out. Roth and his Ensemble playing the teenagers, make it fun watching as each fall prey to the killer. They play with the Horror tropes, making us either root for them or for the masked murderer.
Thanksgiving will leave you stuffed.
Sony Pictures Canada release THANKSGIVING on Friday, November 17, 2023.