NOW IN THEATERS! Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving marks the second time a “faux trailer” from 2007’s double-feature Grindhouse has been adapted by its creator into a feature-length film. While Robert Rodriguez’s Machete stayed truer to the Z-movie exploitation flicks to which he and Quentin Tarantino paid tribute, Thanksgiving is the better film, never allowing throwback vibes to overshadow its plot. Roth may not introduce anything new to the slasher genre, but the man has a hell of a good time playing with familiar tropes. You’ll never look at a turkey the same way again.
Roth loves staging mayhem, and thus the film begins with a Black Friday sequence so outrageous, so well-constructed in terms of its build-up to a boiling point, that the rest of the narrative can’t help but feel a bit anticlimactic. A mob of ravenous buyers-turned-looters violently thrashing a store – a scalping-via-shopping-cart moment deserves its own sidebar – is both hilarious and eerily reminiscent of the current looting crisis in this country.
A year after the incident, the store prepares for another assault. To make matters worse, a killer is on the loose, sporting a John Carver mask and a massive axe. It’s up to Jessica (Nell Verlaque) and her group of friends to figure out who the killer is before he – or she – slices them to pieces. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this exact plot has been rehashed in everything from Prom Night to Scream. Roth knows it, though, and gleefully borrows from the best, sprinkling a bit of that Craven satire into the mix.
“…a woman is roasted alive (with a cooking thermometer!) then carved…”
His teenagers, for the most part, are dumb, one-dimensional oafs who deserve their brutal fates. Part of this is intentional and Roth’s trademark of sorts. Yet the lead, for example, could have been more fleshed out, and screenwriter Jeff Rendell vacillates between knowingly dopey (“This Thanksgiving, there will be no leftovers”) to cringe-worthy (a character worrying about ending up “50% off” if they don’t get to the killer first).
Stabs at capitalism, the nature of this particular family holiday, current Gen Z idiocy, and going viral all go a long way in counterbalancing the intellectual vacuum. One moment wherein a teenager nonchalantly pulls up his shirt to wipe crocodile tears, casually revealing his abs, marks one of the film’s highlights.
But it’s the inventiveness of the slashing that, of course, remains Roth’s forte. Thanksgiving does not disappoint in that department. Ears get stabbed, heads hacked off and twisted, wet cheeks pressed against freezers; a woman is roasted alive (with a cooking thermometer!) and then carved, a cheerleader performing sexy tricks on a trampoline lands on a knife, and a turkey during the annual Thanksgiving parade… well, this one you have to see for yourself – another brilliantly staged sequence of mayhem that ends too soon. The final “family dinner” is grotesque and a total hoot.
Perhaps the most purely enjoyable horror flick since X, Thanksgiving is bound to join the pantheon of classic slashers. It’s outrageously gory, uproarious, and, at rare moments, even gently philosophical. That’s a lot more than one can possibly expect from what is essentially an extended horror movie trailer. Fans of Roth will gobble, gobble this up.
"…fans of Roth will gobble gobble this up..."