Directed and co-written by Sophai Takal (Always Shine, Green) Black Christmas follows Riley (Imogen Poots – Green Room, 28 Weeks Later) a young college student at Hawthorne College who was recently the victim of a sexual assault at the hands of the president of one of the all-male sororities at the College.
To her dismay no action was taken about the assault and most people chose not to believe her side of the story. Those that do believe her though are her sorority ‘sisters’ including Kris (Aleyse Shannon – Instinct, Charmed), Marty (Lily Donoghue – Dirty John, Grey’s Anatomy) and Jesse (Brittany O’Grady – Above Suspicion, The Messengers). Together the sorority chose an event that Riley’s attacker attends to perform what is supposed to be a ‘sexual performance’ into a smart song exposing the actions of a lot of the male students and their thoughts and actions towards the female students. This performance grouped together with student activist Kris taking a stance against the sexist action of Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes – Saw, Kiss The Girls) suddenly sees a mysterious stalker private messaging the girls and taunting them before they start to disappear one-by-one.
As we recently learnt with the failure of the Charlie’s Angels reboot is that a film needs an audience. In the case of Charlie’s Angels it was a lack of star-power that led to dwindling ticket sales, now comes Black Christmas, a film that I fear may suffer the same fate at the Box Office but this time due to audience’s reaction and word-of-mouth.
The premise of Black Christmas set it up so it could have been one of the most important films to have hit cinemas this year. Blumhouse have made some brilliant films at the past that have really delivered a strong social message. Here Black Christmas could have done the same thing. A horror film that exposes that sexual crimes that occur on US College campuses while exploring the notion of the sometimes dangerous bond formed by these Sorority houses. The result could have been Higher Learning meets The Skulls but instead the film makes a very severe mistake – it does what it feels like it is rebelling against – it generalises and stereotypes a sex.
There would have been a real power to this film if it showed the aftermath of Riley’s attack, the way she tried to deal with it and betrayal of the society around her as people tried to brush it aside. Instead the film takes aim at the male species and pretty soon starts to label ‘all’ men as women-haters and potential rapists. The film didn’t need to have the love interests of Landon (Caleb Eberhardt – The Post, Happy) and Nate (Simon Mead – Nothing Trivial, Hilary) shown as heroes or the traditional sexist protectors, but at the same time completely alienating fifty percent of the film’s audience by taking a huge swipe at them is a sure fire way to make sure the film gets some pretty bad word-of-mouth.
The other weakness here is that Takal doesn’t deliver her message with any subtly at all. Films like Get Out and Us worked because they used their social commentary as a plot device and educated the audience in an almost seamless way. With Black Christmas though Takal takes an anvil and smashes it over the audience’s head in an almost Wil E. Coyote style ambush. That kind of storytelling does not make for good or more importantly smart filmmaking. The sad thing about Black Christmas is that it did have a good horror story at its heart. A good horror story exploring the notions of the inner workings of College Sororities certainly has a good ring to it but when Black Christmas does try to move away from its social agenda and focus on the horror side of things it trips itself over with a clumsy, clichéd plot that relies just a little too much on the supernatural to make it even a little bit plausible.
Black Christmas simply has to go down at one of this year’s failures. It is hard to see the horror element winning over hardcore horror fans while the problems we mentioned earlier will see it also alienate a lot more of its audience. The film’s two-dimensional characters also do very little to allow the stars of the film to shine and ultimately Black Christmas becomes a dull affair. Blumhouse rarely makes bad films so let’s hope they bounce back really quickly.