Imogen Poots

Black Christmas (2019)

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A group of sorority sisters at a prestigious college decide to stay at their sorority house over winter break. Unfortunately for these women, the school has a sordid tradition of misogyny and racism. This holiday, that tradition involves killing female college students who are “out of line.” The sisters will have to fight for their lives if they want to make it until Christmas.

Continuing a long and delightful tradition of Christmas horror films comes Black Christmas. This re-imagining of the 1974 classic is directed by Sophia Takal (New Year New You, Always Shine), who also co-wrote the film with April Wolfe in her feature film debut. Instead of recycling the same plot of the original film, Takal and Wolfe have created a culturally-relevant thrill ride that still has some of the same spirit of the original. The film focuses on Riley, a sorority sister who has had enough of the fraternity brothers. After a scandalous Christmas performance at the frat house, the sisters find themselves in mortal danger as a masked figure attacks them in their sorority house. The mythos created around the university and the founder of the school is very interesting, albeit not as well developed as it could have been. Either way it is still very entertaining. Even though this film is a complete re-imagining of the original, eagle-eyed fans of the 1974 Black Christmas will still see a few fun nods to the original film sprinkled throughout.

This film is incredibly politically charged, definitely written for women, and it’s going to piss off a lot of men. It addresses the rampant male toxicity in the world today and how it affects women. Much of the plot, both the normal interactions and the murderous ones, involve experiences that are unique to women. The most obvious female-specific experience is the sexual harassment and assault women deal with on a daily basis. It even shows how we can’t walk down the street alone without having to be completely aware of our surroundings. Some of the more subtle interactions are likely ones most men won’t pick up on. There are references to Diva cups, periods, and vibrators that are sure to get some good laughs from the women in the audience. What I especially enjoyed about the update of this film is how it essentially lets men know women are done taking all of their shit. These women are strong, powerful, and they are done with misogynistic men trying to control and ruin their lives.

While I love the update in this Black Christmas and commend the message it sends, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect film. One issue I have with the plot is a lack of character development. Aside from Riley and maybe one other sorority sister, it doesn’t feel like the audience really gets to know the women very well. Another aspect that felt unnecessary is the character of Landon. While the character is nice and the performance is great, his character felt like an afterthought. It was almost as if the studio asked the filmmakers to include at least one guy to fit into the “not all men” category. Finally, I feel like Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Kiss the Girls) was greatly underutilized. It’s obvious from the beginning that he isn’t a good guy, and we’ve seen in him a great villain in past films, but his character just doesn’t quite reach that same malevolent level fans will likely want and expect.

Each of the women in Black Christmas deliver great performances of complex and strong females. Imogen Poots (Green Room, 28 Weeks Later) stars as Riley. She is a survivor of a sexual assault and doubly strong because she persevered despite not being believed. Poots does a fantastic job of conveying Riley’s trauma and how it has changed her, but she is also able to be strong and powerful with the help of her friends. Aleyse Shannon (Charmed, Instinct) stars as Riley’s sorority sister, Kris. Kris is a very political character and a clear fighter who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Shannon is great at exuding confidence as Kris while also being a great support system for her sisters. Honorable mention goes to Lily Donoghue (Jane the Virgin) as Marty, Brittany O’Grady (Above Suspicion), and Caleb Eberhardt (The Post) as Landon.

To keep up with the legacy of the original film, this Black Christmas had to be sure to have some great visuals. For one, the lighting in this film is phenomenal. There is a lot of great use of Christmas lights to draw the viewer’s eye while also creating gorgeous color play on the screen. While I feel as though the filmmakers shied away from showing the kills a bit too much, they did find a clever way to show some gore within the constraints for the PG-13 rating. I will leave this as a bit of a surprise since it relates to hidden aspects of the plot, but suffice it to say there is at least a bit of gore for the gore-hounds out there. Earlier I mentioned there are great Easter eggs from the first film, but also be sure to keep an eye out for a delightful little nod to The Exorcist III.

Black Christmas is a film made by women, for women, that is sure to bring in hoards of new young female horror fans. It is clear that Takal and Wolfe made this film for young women with the goal of empowering them and bashing male toxicity. If this film makes even one young woman feel empowered after leaving the theater, then it is a successful film. Naturally, the political message and the idea of empowering women is a threat to many men, as we see in the film and has already been evident on social media around the film. I for one really enjoyed Black Christmas. It has it’s flaws, but its fun, has great characters young women can look up to, and will definitely appeal to its target audience. Hopefully this will lead to many more studio horror films geared towards women who love horror. There are definitely going to be plenty of men who don’t like this film, which is fine, but if you’re a guy just remember: this film wasn’t made for you.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Green Room

A punk rock band is coming to the end of their cross-country tour. In a last minute change of plans, the band gets booked for a gig at a venue in rural Oregon that is known as a skinhead hangout. They decide to take a chance and perform, hoping to get the money they need for the long drive home. After their set ends, the band witnesses something horrific in the green room. It soon becomes clear that this group of friends is going to have to fight in order to survive the night.

While I anticipated this film would be exciting, I did not anticipate the brutality and depth of it. There were multiple layers to the plot, and the characters all had so much more than what was just on the surface. One of the things I love about this story is how quickly the feel goes from everything being fine to all hell breaking loose. It was like the flick of a switch. From that single moment the band realizes something horrible has happened, they know that their lives are in danger. That intensity and fear bleeds from the screen and surrounds the audience. It is almost impossible as an audience member to not be at the edge of your seat, feeling like you are fighting through this horrific situation along with the band. This would not have been possible if the filmmakers had not done such an amazing job with the character development. They made you care about the band members and whether or not they would survive the horrors they faced.

This was a film that really had some unexpected brutality. What made it work was that it wasn’t brutality just for the sake of having violence. It was brutality that moved the story along and showed how truly evil this skinhead gang was. Of course, it is difficult to really talk about the violence unless you also discuss the insanely perfect practical effects. Green Room has some of the most amazing, realistic practical effects I have seen in recent memory. What made the combination of violence and practical effects work so well is because most of the time it happened at an unexpected moment. The filmmakers did a great job of letting the audience know that something horrible was happening, but then it went even further and shocked them by the sheer barbarity and gruesome nature of the wounds inflicted. I found myself on more than one occasion while watching Green Room wanting to cover my eyes with my mouth hanging open in shock. The ferocity of the violence truly took this film to another level.

There were so many incredible performances in Green Room, it is difficult to select just a few to focus on. While everyone was amazing, I’m going to narrow it down to three performances that still stand out in my mind days after seeing the film. I, of course, have to begin by talking about Anton Yelchin (Odd Thomas, Star Trek) as the band member, Pat. Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for Yelchin. I think he is an incredibly talented actor, and I have yet to see him in a film I didn’t love. Green Room was no exception. His character is lovable, kind of spacey, and ever the optimist in the darkest of circumstances. Another great performance came from Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later, Fright Night) as the mysterious Amber. Poots was absolutely tremendous in this film. What I found so engaging about her character is that she comes from the backwoods skinhead culture, so as things unravel she acts almost as a guide for the band. She clearly understands what is going to happen, but she doesn’t associate herself as part of the malicious group of skinheads. Finally, I was really surprised by Macon Blair (Blue Ruin, Murder Party) as Gabe. Gabe acts as a manager at the skinhead bar. What I loved so much about Blair’s performance was how clearly he showed Gabe’s internal struggle. On the one hand, Gabe desperately wants to impress his boss and move up in the skinhead gang’s ranks. On the other hand, Gabe knows what is being done is wrong, and he is clearly battling with himself on what he should do. This was the first film I had seen Blair in, and my focus was drawn to him every time he was on screen. I want to be sure to mention all the amazing actors that made me love this film, so I will give a “shout out” to Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Mark Webber, Callum Turner, Eric Edelstein, Kai Lennox, and of course Patrick Stewart.

I really can’t emphasize enough how much I loved this film. Green Room is a ruthless tale of savagery that will excite and shock audiences. What takes this film to the next level is that it has all these traits while also having substance. There is a real story here that draws you in. The viciousness of the acts is only a byproduct of the unfortunate events that occur. Do not pass on this punk rock tale of a group of friends fighting for their lives against unspeakable odds.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10