‘Black Christmas’ (2019) Review: Dir. Sophia Takal

For years cinemas have been filled with remakes of older films, the horror genre, in particular, contributing heavily to the trend. Now though it seems like we might be at the start of a string of remakes of remakes. The first such film is Black Christmas. The original version was released in 1974, with a modernised version first attempted in 2006. Now comes the third iteration of the film.

The 2019 take on Black Christmas is markedly different from the previous movies. In fact, other than the title, the story taking place at the start of Christmas break, and having sorority girls as our core cast of characters, the film shares no other DNA with what audiences have seen before. With that being said, it’s a little hard to understand quite why it’s being pitched as a remake and re-imagining of the 1974 cult slasher.

This time around, events unfold at Hawthorne University and follow Riley (Imogen Poots), a sexual assault survivor, and her sorority sisters as they prepare for winter break. After declaring war on the fraternity at which Riley’s assault took place, the group finds themselves plagued by menacing DMs. Soon after this, the sisters begin disappearing in strange circumstances and the remaining few find themselves fighting for their lives against a group of mask-wearing maniacs.

At its heart, Black Christmas is a slasher film, and yet it’s missing the key ingredient that makes the slasher film work – inventive deaths and blood. Not all horror films have to be excessively violent, but slashers work best when we actually see the victims die. Here there’s just a lot of people being grabbed, and their deaths happening off-screen. This means that the murders lose their gravitas and audiences expecting a strong 15 will be very disappointed. For these reasons, the film succumbs to the same fate as the Prom Night remake.

Black Christmas also a film with a message to tell. Writer and director Sophia Takal taps heavily into the #MeToo movement and uses the film to explore gender politics. It’s an interesting concept to tell this type of story through the horror genre, but sadly the execution is lacking. The message is simultaneously rammed down your throat and confusingly muddled. Subtle this story isn’t, and men come off horribly badly. Almost all are written as women-hating bastards, and the few that aren’t are portrayed as weak and oddly feminine, which jars with the message that women have just as much power as their male counterparts.

What does save Black Christmas from being a complete train-wreck is the presence of Imogen Poots. After staring in both Fright Night (itself a remake) and Green Room, she seems to be carving out a little niche on her portfolio with genre cinema. She makes Riley an engaging character, and she works hard with the material given to her. However, Poots also appears to struggle to fully commit, resulting in her character coming off as disinterested as the viewer at times.

Though the bare basics of the originals DNA are present, Black Christmas is a very different beast. Frustratingly, for all its good intentions and new ideas, the end result is a diluted and unsubtle mess. Not quite the absolute train-wreck that it could have been, Black Christmas is nonetheless a rather disappointing update that would have benefited from embracing its true slasher-film nature.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Black Christmas is available to watch on Netflix now.

This review was first published on THN.