In a remake few asked for they resort to a premise fewer will enjoy.
This time of year theaters are populated mainly with two types of films — massive holiday blockbusters, or Oscar-caliber titles trying to bait voters for nominations. On Friday ‘’Black Christmas’’ will premiere, in defiance of both categories. It is, as a holiday-themed horror effort, neither poised for awards consideration nor expected to fill many seats.
‘’One thing that was really important to me,’’ says director Sophia Takal, ‘’was making a movie that felt like it was moving the slasher subgenre forward.” Ah, great – a progressive slasher. “We weren’t just making a movie about expendable women whose primary purpose was to be killed for entertainment.’’ Is…is that an admission she set out to make a film that was not entertaining? Based on the way the film is described it certainly sounds possible.
This is another reboot of a film that is considered a horror classic. The original ‘’Black Christmas’’ from 1974 is regarded as one of the original films that kicked off the slasher film category. Of note, it was directed by Bob Clark, who later directed the holiday favorite ”A Christmas Story’’. While ushering in a number of plot elements that are staples in slashers today one aspect of the movie that was impactful was that the killer never had his history explained, and was never revealed. This was entirely undone in the unneeded remake in 2006, where ‘’Billy’’ had his backstory detailed, to little interest.
More unneeded is this 2019 version, which seems so much a departure from tha1974 original that the title sounds more like copyright infringement. Takal was inspired to make this film after the Donald Trump election and the later sexual harassment wave that coursed through the country. ‘’I just felt tapped into a lot of the rage that women felt and also a lot of the camaraderie that we felt with one another,” Takal said. “I wanted to make a movie that wasn’t about women being pitted against each other but finding strength through one another.”
If one might be considering that this could be a case of reading too much into the creative process, nope. It is proudly declared the intention was to have the characters be less victimized, to gain strength through bonding, and to make a commentary about misogyny. As Takal explained it, when she saw former men who were brought down by the #MeToo movement starting to make comebacks career-wise she knew women had to become more militant.
She described her focus to the LA Times —
In response, the filmmaker resolved to make a PG-13 horror movie that would frankly address tough issues like sexual assault and rape while remaining accessible to young women and girls.
This seems a tough sell in this particular genre, for even as more women are accepting horror films the core demographic of these movies remains to be young males. That is a market reality, and for that reason I think Takal might be making a miscalculation. I do not begrudge her for making her type of slasher — I have long responded to those who criticize the art of others for lacking in particular elements that they should instead make their own. Go make what they deem to be the ‘’correct’’ product, then let the market decide.
That seems the case here, so credit goes out to Sophia. My critique is that maybe she should not be as upfront with her intentions. It would be not only more palatable if she were slightly more subversive with her message, but possibly more effective. Letting the audience discover these themes would then lead to a more receptive mindset.
If the film had instead been sold as more of ‘’just another’’ slasher, and then let audiences discover the subtext and messaging, the delivery would have been more effective. This was something employed with the 1960s television show ‘’I Spy’’. Bill Cosby had become the first POC performer on primetime television, but he and co-star Robert Culp insisted that the network not highlight the race of Cosby. It was not a subject in promotions, and they even downplayed the issue in the plot of the show. It went far to normalize his appearance and thus became more acceptable to audiences.
Instead, by coming out and declaring that she made this as a ‘’feminist slasher’’ Sophia Takal might be repelling the very audience she would be wise to have watching her film. In order to change minds you first need to have eyes on the product, and that only is accomplished with butts in the seats. Instead ‘’Black Christmas’’ is possibly destined to be aligned with the recent all-female ‘’Ghostbusters’’, and the insistently feminist reboot of ‘’Charlie’s Angels’’ that flamed out spectacularly last month.
It is unfair to declare the film a misfire before it has been viewed, and yet there is still concern behind that. The film has not been screen ahead for critics, usually a sign of a studio recognizing it has a weak product and needs to blunt as much negative press as it can. This is a Blumhouse-produced title, a production outfit renown for keeping budgets razor-thin and being dependably profitable as a result. At a cost of just $5 million, and likely a promotional budget in the same range, I would guess this remake will need to take in a gross of $20-25 million before it begins to see a profit.
That said, while the risk is minimal for the distributor Universal Pictures, the very thought of a girl-power #MeToo-inspired slasher during the holidays sounds like a daunting task. For many prospective ticket buyers the idea of receiving a social lecture in a horror romp is what might be the scariest concept for them.