Thanksgiving – 81%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 1,028 / 5,351
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, two mavericks of independent cinema, got together and released Grindhouse (2007), a double feature ode to the days of cheap, over-the-top exploitation cinema. To recreate the feel of that theatrical experience, they employed a load of directors to film satirical trailers that paid homage to the era. Rodriguez’s own addition was spun off into a feature, 2010’s Machete, followed up with Machete Kills (2013). 15 years later comes Eli Roth’s turn with Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving takes place in Plymouth, Mass, the iconic spot where some of the earliest pilgrims from England landed to make North America their new home. A greedy businessman (Rick Hoffman) decides to begin his store’s Black Friday sale on Thanksgiving evening. His daughter’s (Nell Verlaque) friends convince her to let them into the store to pick up some goods before a night out. Their appearance in the store windows enrages the testy crowd, and the small security staff and local sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) are unable to hold them back. A vicious capitalist massacre ensues as consumers trample, maim, and destroy for holiday savings and their chance at a free waffle iron.
Roth’s film follows the high school friends a year later as a crazed killer, dressed as a pilgrim, goes on a revenge-fueled slaughter. The goal is to pick off those they hold responsible for the gory episode the prior year. Roth is nothing if not a horror connoisseur. His films often recall or pay direct tribute to subgenres. This time it’s the group-of-teenagers-paying-for-their-previous-sins slasher. He does a great job with some key visual cues to the original “trailer” that inspired the film. Roth’s previous horror films all have a sense of humor, even amidst often brutal, sadistic scenes of torment. That is no different in Thanksgiving, but the outlandish nature of the story makes the pitch-dark sense of humor more palatable, while maintaining the filmmaker’s penchant for close-ups of peeling flesh and squirting arteries.
Perhaps the biggest improvement with Thanksgiving is that it avoids Roth’s pitfall of unsympathetic protagonists. Our roster of potential victims, while lacking any character development or growth (typical for slasher movies), are at least generally decent humans. The film’s thrills are paced evenly throughout and build brilliantly on each other to a grand, uncomfortable, yet deliciously humorous horrific climax.
Thanksgiving is a welcome addition to the holiday horror roster. A fun premise, solid lead performances, and enough edge to give it a distinct voice make it stand out in a crowded horror marketplace. It’s essential viewing for those looking to add some bile and blood to their next holiday feast.