- Katie Bell
Black Christmas - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
Black Christmas is a film with a lot of potential. It has the potential to be a Christmas film, it has the potential to be a horror film, and it has the potential to be a comedy. In trying to achieve all three, it actually doesn't wholly achieve any.
The film follows Riley (Imogen Poots) and her sorority sisters, in a lead up to the Christmas break. They are all heading back to their families for some Christmas cheer, but before they go, they've organised a dinner with little orphan Riley, who has no family to go home to, and will be minding the sorority cat over the holidays...I'm sure it sounds cruel when I write it like that, but they literally call it their "orphan dinner". I initially thought they were attending a fundraiser. Alas, no. This is just their way of comforting their friend through the fact that she is completely alone. Anyway, as I'm sure you've guessed by now, dinner does not eventuate, because the gents at a campus fraternity just down the street, decide to have a Christmas Eve "hazing ritual", where they hunt down women who seemingly "don't know their place" and MURDER THEM. Seems like a legit way to vet your housemates...if you enjoy rooming with murderous misogynists?
Look, I'm joking around about a plot that is silly at times, but Black Christmas also addresses some serious and important topics. The film discusses themes in relation to the treatment of women and female empowerment. Our protagonist, Riley, was sexually assaulted on campus three years prior to the events of this film. Not only do we watch Riley grapple with moving on, we're also reminded that she's not just traumatised by the assault itself, but also by the fact that very few people believed her when she spoke up about it. When the film is commenting on Riley's assault and (I suppose) the broader subject of college rape culture, it does so in a more sensitive way. However, the film also makes plenty of jokes about the rampant sexism on campus, and many of these are delivered by the male characters; inadvertently making fun of themselves. My personal favourite, is when a male character is discussing Riley's inevitable death with her, and gives her the option to basically go quietly in order to be killed in a gentler way. Frat-Boy No. 3 then unironically says, "Your body, your choice". This literally comes from a guy who is best buds with the rapist. It's a beautiful way of making this character look like an idiot, whilst simultaneously delivering the film's main message. And yeah, the themes are addressed in an incredibly overt way, but what else would you expect in a film that pits frat boys and sorority sisters against one another?
When I saw the trailer for Black Christmas, I did not think it would be the delivery of themes that I would enjoy the most. I thought I was walking into a horror/thriller/slasher/something remotely scary. Don't see this film if you want to be scared. I didn't think it was going to be terrifying (which is why I allowed myself to see it in the cinema), but I definitely thought it would be a little frightening. It wasn't. The characters did have moments of utter stupidity though. Which I guess is in line with a horror film? For example, when concerned that she might die, Lindsay (Lucy Currey) decides to call her sorority sisters, instead of the police. No, Lindsay. Choose life, Lindsay. We also have a random conversation from characters who are off-screen, coming through louder than the characters on-screen. And what are they discussing? Climate change? Poverty? Human trafficking? Nah! None of the above. This loud conversation, that is so important for audience members to hear, is about what kind of underwear the women are wearing. Because nothing says female empowerment like, "I'm wearing a thong and other underwear," "I'm not wearing anything!" **giggle**. We also have classic horror movie moments where the villainous frat boys creepily mosey around the house turning off all the light switches....which might be scary...if they didn't leave all of the fairy lights and Christmas lights on. I guess it was for production design? I mean it looks pretty. However, I was so distracted by the prettiness, I lost all concern for the lives of the women in jeopardy. #whereisthetension?
Some final thoughts: menstrual cups. Yep. You read that right. I'm going to talk about menstrual cups in a movie review, which is not anything I ever thought I'd do, but hey. This film appears to be sponsored by DivaCup. Erm, yep. Essentially, DivaCups are mentioned three times throughout this film. They are mentioned once, mentioned twice and then placed on display for the grand finale. But I just want to discuss something in relation to said menstrual cups. One of the young women in the house seemingly misplaces her DivaCup. She approaches Riley in a panic. She's running late! Where is it? Riley's like, "no stress...I got a spare" (**not the actual dialogue). Then her sorority sister unzips the top of her jeans, places her hands between her legs and pops it in, before saying a brief thank-you and waltzing out of Riley's bedroom. What did I just watch? Why was I forced to see this? Look, I'm not a period-prude, but I have a few issues with this sequence. Firstly, I cannot even fathom putting in a menstrual cup, whilst wearing jeans. How? This sorority sister has to be some kind of magician/wizard...or the #divacup is just that awesome. Secondly, I really don't understand this current need to perpetuate the idea that women just slap in a menstrual cup in front of each other (I've seen this in several films/television programs of late). I'm all about the sisterhood. I love my best friends. But upon offering my BFF a menstrual cup, I would expect her to pop into the bathroom briefly to insert said cup. Unless there were some kind of drastic issue and she needed my help...I don't know. I feel like men will watch this movie and assume that women all over the globe are unzipping their jeans and smacking in menstrual cups in front of each other, like it's some kind of formal greeting. Finally, I love my best friend and not to be stingy, but if she loses her menstrual cup, I'm offering her a tampon. Menstrual cups are like $40-$60 and these women are in College...I don't know. Maybe that's super unreasonable. I understand the purpose and I understand the importance of normalising fertility/menstrual cycles, but I felt it was my duty to stamp out any rumours that may be perpetuated by this highly unusual scene, between two housemates....not even best friends.
Despite some DivaCup confusion, Black Christmas had me engaged until the climax. At this point, the film tipped the scales in the cheesy direction just a little too far. You might have seen it in the trailer, "You've messed with the wrong sisters". I cringed. Outwardly. Until this point, I was thinking, "Okay, it's not scary, but it's got some good messages, some nice allusions to other Cary Elwes films and Poots is delivering a decent performance". But I couldn't get over the cheese...and then there is the action sequence that follows that cheesy line. They were not getting me back after that.
Look, it's not a horror, it's not a comedy, it's not a Christmas film. It does address some pertinent and timely issues. However, I think it would have been a much better watch, if it were scarier. You could watch it, I guess...but also you don't have to. Despite the latent potential, it's a "meh" from me.