Thanksgiving Review

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Eli Roth begins his newest offering with a wink, Thanksgiving. The camera seems to float thus focusing on the front of a suburban house. As we have adopted the vision of sexual predator lurking through windows, pondering over his next rape victim. Or is it? This opening shot is intended to mislead and create false sense of fear before actual danger commences as well as being a way for Roth to pay homage to voyeuristic nature present in Halloween and Black Christmas. His contribution sits between parody and homage.

Roth also straddled this line on his first go-round with this concept, one of the fake trailers that separated the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino halves of 2007’s Grindhouse double feature. In miniature, Thanksgiving was an absolute take-off on slasher programmers from the early ‘80s –the sort of sleazy trash influenced by Halloween or Black Christmas. Sixteen years later, what was just a faux trailer has become an actual film but minus all those retro graininess and beat up prints gimmicks that Roth has discarded. The new Thanksgiving is like some remade version of its fictional 80s’ forbearer updated for smartphones but still having slasher who-done-it-ness ala Scream, only now with dog-sick humor intact.

The story starts in Plymouth Massachusetts; there’s a prologue that locates it here just below Boston. In Plymouth MA., Walmart-like superstore goes into chaos during Black Friday sales resulting in deaths because everyone blames everyone else for this tragedy without admitting their own fault in the matter. So a year later pilgrim-costumed killer with plastic John Carver mask sets out to get even across town starting at carving out people he thinks caused him insult or trouble creatively using different types kitchen materials which are truly remarkable if not strange at times (he suffocates his victims in mashed potatoes).

His targets include unruliest rioters, the store’s owner (Rick Hoffman) and his fifteen-year-old daughter (Nell Verlaque), and her fluctuating group of dumb vacuous expendable high school friends. The search for the murderer is conducted by a police officer played by Patrick Dempsey who returns to his slasher-detective duty after spending some time on Ghostface’s trail from Scream 3.

Violence in Thanksgiving comes right when it is expected at intervals of only minutes and is equally goofy and brutal. It manages somehow to walk this tightrope of inventively revolting nastiness, that is actually memorably nasty without being trully so – although mileage will vary according to taste, temperament, and gag reflex, naturally. Roth; director-writer of barf bag anti-classics like Cabin Fever and Hostel has covered his usual sadism with the plastic inconsequence of the slasher genre in order that even the most macabre moments –like a final meal made out of cruel devilry– play more towards shock humor than terror. In this way, the films feels very much like an indebted Terrifier movie franchise which features a bad guy who sometimes trades in all pilgrim motif or gun or clown attire too.

Even though Thanksgiving has a lot of blood, it is also filled with some great suspense scenes that really keeps us guessing and hanging on the edge. Here is one thing; Wes Craven himself would have felt proud to shoot such episode in a school containing long corridors, that ominously chirping phone and room of mannequin heads – all set in broad daylight, with police cars outside- but still too scared to enter. This isn’t the most sophisticated mystery, even by the lower standards of later Scream; figuring out who the bad guy is mostly about forgetting about obvious red herrings and using logic. But Roth subverts expectations in other ways. He points your eyes at one place before striking at another.

Naturally enough, the characters are an assortment of obnoxious stereotypes—screen addicted kids, bellowing Massholes and so on. They’re classic slasher victims designed to die according to classic slasher rules. While Roth has hardly ventured into Jason Voorhees territory for any great length of time, he’s an old hand at spreading scorn around widely and punishing idiots for their sins. Amongst his filmography filthy mindedness is the common theme.

Yet, this movie lacks the kind of culture-war button-pushing that made others stand up against some of Roth’s earlier efforts like The Green Inferno which is akin to an Italian cannibal throwback or his playful gun-nut Death Wish remake. Thanksgiving isn’t a trollish screed or an allegory as such. Culturally speaking it doesn’t say much beyond an overall contempt for Black Friday-like unruly annual stampedes for discounted goods by people who have been standing in line since yesterday morning but it definitely does speak volumes about American consumerism gone wild . Just pure retro leanness –an old-fashioned killing spree film which also happens to be one helluva darkly humorous piece with a lot of laughs along the way.. An Eli Roth movie that isn’t smug? Talk about a good reason to be grateful this holiday.


After sixteen years of delivering some comedic old school slasher havoc through a bogus trailer stuck in the Grindhouse, Eli Roth eventually completes his own feature length Thanksgiving. The best news is that it’s moderately amusing with enough gross-out humor to remind us of the “dead teenager movie” golden age in the eighties, but with a touch of cool Scream-like irony. At least gore hounds will enjoy watching the nastier parts including perhaps one involving an oven which is as sickening as major studio horror can get. For the director of Cabin Fever and Hostel, creating something this entertaining must have been like making a Christmas miracle on Halloween night.

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