Holiday-themed suspense-horror film Thanksgiving fronts a new face to slasher movies, taking out cliches and emphasizing realistic horrific scenarios.
Renowned horror filmmaker Eli Roth, known for splatter films such as Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005) and The Green Inferno (2013), takes the helm as director with high expectations to live up to, given the commendable direction of his previous movies.
Here is SEA Wave’s High Five review of Thanksgiving.
A Suspenseful Prelude
The film begins in Plymouth, Massachusetts on Thanksgiving night. Amidst the celebration, residents of Plymouth gather outside the huge Right Mart grocery store while waiting for its doors to open for a Black Friday sale. Among the group is Jessica Wright (Nell Verlaque), daughter of the store’s owner, as she and her friends cut in line to get to the store first. A tragedy occurs when residents chaotically rush inside the store after seeing Jessica and her friends getting special treatment, resulting in a stampede which gravely injures and kills some of the characters we were initially introduced to.
The prelude of the film alone showcased Roth’s mastery of his craft. The first few movie deaths were a perfect mix of horrific, realistic and campy, showing the over the top gruesome results of something as benign as a scuffle over shopping carts. All we can say about the prelude is: 15 minutes is a long time to hold your breath.
An Overarching Feeling of Dread
Flash forward to present day – it’s been a year since the Black Friday stampede and justice has not been served to the families of the victims. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, a threat looms over the small town with a serial killer known as John Carver seemingly killing people at random and sending a cryptic message to the town’s residents.
Supposedly a time for gathering with loved ones and sharing what we’re grateful for, Thanksgiving is twisted into something a lot more sinister, where the characters of the movie can’t feel safe even in the presence of friends or family.
The film is successful in creating that eerie atmosphere of being watched and feeling unsafe. You feel as though you’re always a step behind the mystery, and you need to stay on your toes and do everything you can to keep up or else. This is present in the movie score and the sprinkling of scenes with John Carver watching in the background. The presentation is effective and hair-raising – you know what to expect, but you don’t know when it will arrive to blindside you.
Realistic Use of Technology
While most horror films take place somewhere without cell reception or concoct scenarios to get rid of cell phones altogether, Thanksgiving makes great use of the gadget and incorporates many modern technologies in the killer’s repertoire.
John Carver uses phones and social media to his advantage, posing a higher threat to his targets. The killer uses Instagram to send cryptic messages to the main group and to post threatening photos of his victims.
Seeing that the officials didn’t even have a clue about who John Carver could be despite the killer using social media was scary enough as it is. Even more so, during the climax of the film, John Carver goes to lengths to set up a livestream to showcase his various torture methods to viewers – who, either not knowing it was real or knowing it was real and supporting it anyway, reacted positively in the comment section.
Clichés? No, thanks
Relying on clichés can often weaken the presentation of any film, even slasher films. In Thanksgiving, clichés are thrown out the window. The closest we get are character archetypes, which help establish our characters almost immediately but don’t impact the storytelling in a negative way at all.
Each action and character beat in the film was shown realistically, helping viewers realize how likely they are to do the same things if they were in the shoes of the characters. The main lead doesn’t even trip during a chase scene – how often can you say that about a slasher film?
Realistic Portrayals of Characters
You can’t trust anyone in a slasher movie. But as we stay seated and think about who the killer might be, there comes a point where we have to concede defeat. The characters in the film are too well-presented and each with ample screen time that you wouldn’t even be able to tell who John Carver is, or who his next target would be.
Even tiny details are captured realistically like characters using their phones while in conversation, the mundanity of opening up a store or closing up a diner, and even not being able to resist petting a cat. The script takes care to include these moments that make the characters relatable and seem more real.
The only complaint that can be made is that the runtime was too short! There could have been more discussions between the main group and their theories about the killer, which would have given the audience more reason to emotionally invest in the group and the ending. The movie runs at a reasonable time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, but an extension of a few more minutes could have given it the room it needed to maximize its impact.
SEA Wave rates Thanksgiving a score of 3 ½ out of 5. Catch it in theaters starting November 22, 2023.
Are you excited to see this film? Do you have an idea of who the killer could be? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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