“Thanksgiving” is this year’s horror movie featuring the annual holiday. The film is filled with graphic gore and interesting twists involving Turkey Day rituals. While the plot does not stand any close scrutiny, a healthy suspension of disbelief lets you enjoy its creativeness, humor, and social commentary.
The picture begins with a tour-de-force set piece inside a department store the evening of Thanksgiving. Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman), the owner of RightMart in Plymouth, Massachusetts, has decided to take his fiancée Kathleen’s (Karen Cliche) advice and open the store on Thanksgiving evening. His daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) despises her potential stepmom for her greediness.
In another home, Mitch Collins (Ty Olsson) and his wife Amanda (Gina Gershon) welcome Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) to their home for the holiday. Mitch soon receives a phone call stating that he needs to fill in as the manager that night for the RightMart Black Thursday sale.
Jessica and five of her friends decide to go to the movies. They need some supplies and head to the chaos that exists outside RightMart. Crowds of people are pressed against barricades to be among the first 100 people to get a free waffle iron. Security is clearly overwhelmed and understaffed.
Since Jessica’s Dad owns WrightMart, the six are allowed to enter early. This makes the crowd angrier as they continue to push the boundaries and attempt to enter. Finally, the crowd surges forward earlier than the door can be opened. The staff member with the keys is crushed to death as the mob breaks down the doors.
Soon bedlam ensues. One of Jessica’s friends Evan (Tomaso Sanelli) records the action for social media. Amanda, who has come to see Mitch, is killed by two frenzied people wielding shopping carts.
A year later, Thomas Wright has suffered no consequences despite the multiple deaths that occurred at his store. Among the casualties is Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), Jessica’s one-time boyfriend, who suffered damage to his pitching hand that kept him from an athletic career. Some local citizens are protesting WrightMart’s being open on Thanksgiving. Among them is now widower Mitch Collins, whose wife died in the previous year’s melee.
At the local diner, masks are being distributed of town ancestor John Carver. While at the diner, the now five friends notice that they are being tagged on social media by a mysterious person. There are place settings with their names at a Thanksgiving table.
Soon people involved in the RightMart free-for-all are being killed. One woman who pushed the cart into Amanda’s scalp is cut in half by a dumpster lid falling on her as she tries to escape a man with a John Carver mask. The security guard who ran from the scene is murdered at home.
The social media postings now include mention of the deaths. Alarmed, Jessica goes to Sheriff Newlon. He asks for her help in whatever way she can provide in identifying potential suspects.
Things only get worse as the holiday approaches.
This film is an extension of a faux trailer for a similarly-named movie in “Grindhouse.” It took 16 years to go from trailer to feature.
I am not a fan of Eli Roth’s so-called “torture porn” films. On the other hand, I thought that he made a stylish remake of “Death Wish,” this time starring Bruce Willis.
“Thanksgiving” often descends into Grand Guignol with its over-the-top imaginative ways to murder people. Roth’s love of gore often makes the film descend into unintentional humor.
This comic relief is necessary as you don’t care about any of the characters. All of them are ciphers representing an archetype (the jock, the beauty queen, the evil miser, etc.). As such, there is no tension about hoping that a particular person survives. The focus shifts from horror empathy to how creative are the deaths.
The visual effects are well-done in a kind of low-budget way. The slasher motif is old hat so the ingenuity of the effects succeeds in raising this film above others in the genre. The injection of humor, intentional or otherwise, is a positive feature that keeps the movie from taking itself too seriously.
There is some social commentary. I liked the use of social media to taunt the potential victims. During the protests a year later, signs are carried stating that it’s Thanksgiving, not Thanksbuying. The beginning mob scene is of course a critique of excessive consumerism. None of these observations are unique or done in any great depth. But that is not the purpose of this horror flick.
Ultimately though the film is little more than going along for a gorefest ride in which you try to figure out who the killer is and what motivates him or her. I guessed who the villain was from the get-go, although I didn’t know the motive for this person’s actions.
Of course the plot does not stand any close scrutiny. If there had been this many killings in this short a time span, the FBI would have come in and there would have been massive national coverage. This never happens. It is as if Plymouth is such a small town that it exists in a vacuum.
No one’s acting performance stands out. Everyone just goes through the motions of their archetypical role.
Of course the film is completely unsuitable for children. The gore and killings depicted are so over-the-top in their excess that it is hard to take seriously even for adults.
Despite my note of the flaws in the picture, it had its moments. I was truly never bored even though the slasher genre is not my cup of tea. I have a feeling that this is a film that its creators did not intend to have taken seriously as a work of art.
Two-and-a-half out of five stars
After a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy, a mysterious Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts – the birthplace of the holiday. Picking off residents one by one, what begins as random revenge killings are soon revealed to be part of a larger, sinister holiday plan. Will the town uncover the killer and survive the holidays…or become guests at his twisted holiday dinner table?
Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, Milo Manheim, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Nell Verlaque, with Rick Hoffman, and Gina Gershon
Directed by Eli Roth
"Thanksgiving": Creative holiday horror has its moments
The film is filled with graphic gore and interesting twists involving Turkey Day rituals. While the plot does not stand any close scrutiny, a healthy suspension of disbelief lets you enjoy its creativeness, humor, and social commentary.