Directed by Eli Roth | Written by Roth and Jeff Rendell | 106 min | ▲▲▲△△
You may recall Grindhouse, the double-feature cinematic release from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez back in 2007 — the individual features were Death Proof and Planet Terror. Neither were those individual filmmakers’ best work, but paired up they made for a terrific night at the movies. A big part of the fun was the collection of fake trailers in between the movies, including the slice of genius from Dartmouth filmmaker Jason Eisener, Hobo With A Shotgun, which wound up being made as a feature film starring Ruger Hauer. Also jumping from fake trailer to feature was Rodriguez’s own Machete. Now, 16 years later, comes Thanksgiving.
I’ve said a lot on this blog that I’m far from a hardcore horror guy — I tend to be drawn to the more art house horrors than the exploitation or slasher flicks, but even so, I can’t deny what Thanksgiving does well: it ramps up a host of 1980s slasher horror cliches for laughs and then drowns them in buckets of gore. It’s a good time for those with strong stomachs.
We start with two families celebrating American Thanksgiving in Plymouth, one solidly in the working class and one where the patriarch owns the local big box store. The store is having a pre-Black Friday sale, opening Thursday and giving away free waffle makers to the first 100 customers. The shoppers waiting outside for the doors to open are surly and aggressive. What follows is one of the funniest and most frightening scenes of mob rule I’ve ever seen in a movie — and serves as the inciting incident for what comes next.
There that day were most of the lead characters, including Amanda Collins (Gina Gershon), Sheriff Eric Newlon (newly crowned Sexiest Man Alive, Patrick Dempsey), Jessica (Nell Verlaque), daughter of the store owner, her baseball star boyfriend, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), and a bunch of other interchangeable teens.
A year later, a killer in a John Carver mask — Carver was an OG pilgrim, for those of you who don’t know your American history — starts offing people, all of whom have some connection to the stampede at the store the year previous, and Jessica is clearly the Last Girl, the one who’s gonna have to fight off this psychopath who simply will not stop.
And that’s where things get a little more conventional. The picture corkscrews around the likely and unlikely suspects, serving them up in episodic segments at the school and around town — Toronto and Hamilton standing in for New England — until another poor sap dies, usually one of those teens who, frankly, don’t distinguish themselves as having much of a personality.
Thanksgiving certainly has a sense of humour about itself, and that’s to its credit, while never being as willing to go big or broad as, say, Totally Killer. For the community of people who love this kind of thing, the Scream crowd, this should be a slam dunk. (There is a Thanksgiving parade finale that reminded me of Animal House, which was a pleasant connection. “Come back later, we’re doing the dishes!”)
For the rest of us, that trampling in the big box store is worth the ticket price. Roth is saying something about how the season of gratitude has been folded into the human misery of late capitalism, and more power to him.