Black Christmas: A Modern Horror Parable
Black Christmas, a Blumhouse-backed remake of the 1974 Canadian horror flick of the same name, is not a slasher movie like its predecessor. It’s not particularly scary, at least in the traditional sense – in fact, for some men, it may not seem like a horror film at all. Co-written by Sophia Takal and April Wolfe, and directed by Takal, Black Christmas derives all of its terrors from the very simple, very real horrors that women face in a society where power is derived from tradition. The movie doesn’t try to be subtle, because it doesn’t need to be. Men haven’t earned the benefit of getting called out delicately. Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) is a student at Hawthorne College and a member of MKE. Her sorority sister, Kris, recently successfully petitioned to get the bust of sexist, racist slaveholder Calvin Hawthorne removed from campus; now she’s moved on to getting Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes) fired for exclusively including literature authored by white males on his syllabus. When former AKO fraternity President Brian Huntley returns to campus, Riley is forced to relive being raped by Huntley and enduring the doubt and derision of the students and faculty who didn’t believe her. After Riley and her sisters stand up to the boys of AKO in a stirring rendition of the traditional sorority talent show that trashes fraternity rape culture, strange things start happening. Riley, Kris, and their friend Marty receive threatening texts. Their friends go missing. Hooded figures appear. And it’s here that Takal finally utilizes the extremely 2019-ness of her script: what’s more terrifying for a woman than facing threats that nobody else believes exist? At its best, Black Christmas opts for familiar dread over jump-scares. The men who won’t believe something is wrong. The cops who tell Riley that they “need more than feelings” to investigate. The male mentors who offer the empty platitudes of “boys will be…you know.” For every man that can shapeshift between calculated aggression to “who, me?” aloofness, there is a woman stuck between outrage and shrinking disappearance. Narrowly focused on the daily nightmares of womanhood in 2019, Black Christmas stumbles in a series of strangely camp, not-very-scary stalk-and-kill scenes. The set-ups are clever; the follow-throughs dull. But true to form, Takal finds fear in the banal. In one early scene of a woman walking home, the scares come less from the silent, would-be killer, and more from the oblivious man walking 5 feet behind a woman on a deserted, dark street. Black Christmas is a reminder that while the murder sprees of teen slasher films are rare in real life, the real horrors women face are routine. When Professor Gelson tells Riley that “many sacrifices have been made to keep tradition alive,” he’d be hard-pressed to name a single sacrifice made by someone of his gender. The movie is more cathartic than fun, I suppose – but isn’t that more satisfying? If you’re disappointed that this isn’t a traditional slasher flick, maybe you should stop expecting women to give you exactly what you want.