Movie Review: Black Christmas (2019)
Black Christmas is a slasher horror film about a group of sorority sisters being picked off in what is a black magic ritual being performed by a fraternity on campus. The film stars Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donohue, Brittany O'Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, and Cary Elwes. It is directed by Sophia Takal and written by Sophia Takal and April Wolfe.
Women should be empowered. Women should feel safe walking down a street. Women should not have to fear that a person they like will take advantage of them when they choose to drink. Women should be believed and have their fears acknowledged by authorities. These should be truths I'm writing out, tenets of society, but society is one sided. Society is skewed to favor the man. Black Christmas, at its best, shows the very real horror women face everyday, whether it is a man following too closely on a quiet street, being told there's nothing to worry about, that they should calm down, that they're being hysterical, that 9 times out of 10, their friend isn't missing, but hold up with their boyfriend.
Like much of the socially conscious horror that came before it, Black Christmas is showing us the extreme of what can happen as a way for us to more easily understand the microcosm of this problem. Yet, where I think the film fails is when it leaves its original scope. In the original film, which wouldn't work in the age of cell phones, the caller was tormenting them inside of their home exclusively. This Black Christmas deals with the wider world of the internet and cell phones, but also a secret society and black magic in order to heighten the tension.
The secret society within the fraternity is too over the top. The frat boys were already assholes. The professor was already a misogynist. There doesn't need to be something extra to make them believably want to hurt these women, or even inspire a group of bad actors, in the sense of bad people taking action, not poor thespians, to take it upon themselves to teach a lesson. That's what we see everyday, that's the violence pervasive in our modern world. A lone person or group intent on bringing their beliefs to fruition.
That maybe hit too close to home, though. That may have been too close to the truth of the matter. With this narrative, the filmmakers can focus us on what matters from their message. The film works best as a PG-13 affair as well, so that we don't wallow in the violence so that we aren't shying away from what the film is attempting to tell us because we have to look at something truly gruesome on screen.
The gruesomeness is there in our complacency. For decades, centuries, society has skewed toward ignoring women as unimportant. When a woman has seized their opportunity at power, she's taken down with everything the society can throw at her. In Imogen Poots' Riley, we not only get a point of view to look through, but we get an example of what it's like on the other side of assault and rape. That fear and that shrinking Poots exemplifies is powerful in her performance and even more powerful as she learns to take her power back.
Black Christmas is not a great film, but it is an important one. It's a vehicle for attempting to affect change in the world. I hope that everyone comes to it with eyes and ears open, especially during that first 2/3rds. Regardless of how I feel about the ending, I think this is a film people should see and should talk about. It's a film that shouldn't just spark conversations about genre, but about the society that allows events like the ones in this film to happen.