Directed by: Sophia Takal
Written by: Sophia Takal & April Wolfe
Starring: Imogen Poots, Lily Donoghue, Aleyse Shannon, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt
Rape culture on college campuses has been brought to the attention of the common person now more than ever in the way things are covered up and how horrifying it can be for the survivors. It then bizarrely turns into a political topic, which then introduces plenty of venom as partisan ideals breaks down something, which should be largely agreed upon. Sometimes, the truth of this needs to made incredibly blunt, which Black Christmas had no problems doing.
Right before heading out for winter break, Riley (Imogen Poots) prepares to help her friends compete in a fraternity and sorority life competition. At the competition, she sees the man who sexually assaulted her during her first-year all while some masked man begins killing other people within her sorority.
Serving as the remake of what some consider the original slasher, Black Christmas takes a stab at telling this story, but does so with quite the modern twist. In its totality, the film becomes one of finding one’s voice through the abuse, which has occurred to them. It happens mostly through the perspective of Riley and having to put up with the ramifications of coming forward with the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of a former student. The progression of the character and story certainly came through a modern lens with the language utilized to articulate the topics it wanted to address. It leads me to really enjoy the feature despite its rather glaring faults.
The writing of the story feels very obvious and lacking even the semblance of subtlety, but with the topic of sexual assault and rape culture, perhaps it becomes necessary to be extremely blunt with the material. Some like to live in this gray area of trying to protect assaulters, which this film rightfully calls out for being extremely dangerous, but the way it went about it disappointed and explains why many did not enjoy watching it. It comes with the third act reveal and how we learn more about who is killing these girls randomly. For a film, which felt so incredibly real and grounded with the stories happening now, the way it shifted into its reveal buckles under pressure and ultimately fails. Sure, the message it wants to say still brings merit to the discussion, but the manner of its execution left the door open for many more substantive and worthwhile avenues to explore. It remains my major criticism of this feature, but this film deserves to have its place in the discourse.
The film was written, directed, and starring women telling this harrowing story of how women are treated in systems not set up to support survivors. Black Christmas gets at the institutional and systemic ideals set up, which perpetuate these harmful ideas. Something incredibly important to outline. It would be far too easy to pin the issue on singular men who abuse women, but we need to see everything set up around them, which gives these abusers the idea they can cause this harm and then get away with it. Again, the film never heard of the word subtle with how it sets up the characters. Nearly everyone can be pointed to as someone either fighting or perpetuating the system set in place, which harms women.
For a slasher film, it delivers the usual menu of jump scares with the mysterious murderer appearing in ways we’ve all seen before. Whether it be the slow-pans or the fake-outs, everything essentially becomes telegraphed and nothing truly surprises. In that way, it’s competent, but the message elevates it in a way worth watching. In this feature, the kills mean something and the people killed are a deliberate decision made by the killer. Once the reveal occurs, it all makes complete sense and brings the entire feature to a complete circle.
The filmmaking of Black Christmas will not “wow” anyone through its technicals, but it tells an important story wrapped around a slasher. Even with its flaws, I appreciate its existence and the conversation it forces upon its audience. It’s easy to see why many have found glaring faults in the feature, but I truly enjoyed how it all came together. The lead characters speak from their heart, as they try to navigate pushing change at an institution not seeking to comply, which many marginalized groups have encountered, especially at predominantly white colleges.