Patrick Dempsey - Sheriff Eric Newton
Nell Verlaque - Jessica Wright
Addison Rae - Gabby
Jalen Thomas Brooks - Bobby
Milo Manheim - Ryan
Rick Hoffman - Thomas Wright
Gina Gershon - Amanda Collins
Tomaso Sanelli - Evan
Gabriel Davenport - Scuba
Jenna Warren - Yulia
Karen Cliche - Kathleen
Ty Olsson - Mitch Collins
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 106 Minutes
An axe-wielding maniac terrorizes residents of Plymouth, Mass., after a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy. Picking off victims one by one, the seemingly random revenge killings soon become part of a larger, sinister plan.
Back in 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released a double-feature called GRINDHOUSE - an unfortunate box-office miss but a huge cult classic that showcased Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR and Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, as well as fake trailers that ended up being discussion points all their own. Probably the most popular trailer was for Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING, a homage to old school slashers focused around popular holidays. It gained enough buzz that Roth teased it would become an actual film.
For a while, hope for a THANKSGIVING movie lost traction as Eli Roth was more focused on other projects either as a director, actor or producer. But soon enough, Roth confirmed it was happening and we started getting photos and footage of the production. So after 16 years, THANKSGIVING was finally released in time for the actual holiday. But was it worth the wait or a total disappointment?
I can happily say that not only is THANKSGIVING worth the wait and a very cool slasher movie, but it’s also one of Eli Roth’s best films - at least his best one since probably CABIN FEVER. THANKSGIVING is a slasher that knows what it is, playing as a old-school whodunit slasher rather than your modern self-aware slasher film like SCREAM. And honestly, that’s actually refreshing in this modern horror scene. I was happy to see archetypal characters hitting those expected tropes, with a nice bit of depth to each of them as well. Add in a mystery to our Killer Pilgrim and we got ourselves a fun, little slasher flick here.
I appreciated the simplicity of the story, as it’s your typical revenge slasher film where the mysterious killer is targeting the protagonists due to being part of a sin, or crime, that the killer feels must be dealt with. In THANKSGIVING, the first ten or fifteen minutes involves a Black Friday event gone really wrong, as frustrated customers rush into a store for a free waffle iron while pushing, attacking, trampling and killing random people inside the store. One of the victims is a close friend of the killer, causing them to want vengeance on a bunch of teenagers who snuck into the store [the Final Girl’s dad owns the establishment].
Unfortunately, I figured out the killer’s identity right when the inciting incident happened. But the film does play it smart in making a few of the characters red herrings. The Final Girl Jessica has two love interests - one who was injured during the Black Friday incident and disappeared for a while before returning, and another who has money and looks down at some of her friends - both who have motive. The former manager of the store makes it known he wants to take the corporation down, especially since his wife was murdered during Black Friday. We have the owner of the store [Jessica’s dad] and his greedy new wife. We have the Sheriff of the town who was there. We also have an A-hole jock and his more heroic A-hole jock friend. There’s also a new Deputy who doesn’t mind wearing the Pilgrim mask from time to time. The characters have enough depth beyond their archetypes to give each one of them reason to want revenge on what happened.
And the film plays out like an old school slasher should. We have characters acting stupid and doing dumb things that get them into trouble. We have characters who seem villainous who are actually misunderstood. We have characters who seem heroic but are just hiding secrets that relate to the Black Friday fiasco. There are side characters who are just there to increase the body count. And there are some great murder sequences - including someone getting baked inside a giant oven, impaled through the head, sliced in half by a dumpster and even fire. Some of the kills from the original 2007 trailer do make it in, like the Thanksgiving Parade decapitation. The trampoline scene is here, but it’s done differently and not as impactful. And no human turkeys get sexually assaulted, as times have changed since 2007. I do wish the double decapitation bit from the trailer was included though, as that was some of the funniest stuff in the trailer. But this version of THANKSGIVING plays things more seriously, so I can understand why it’s not included.
To say that THANKSGIVING is Eli Roth’s best looking and most polished film is an understatement. There’s a confidence here, as Roth probably had this film playing in his head for almost two decades, knowing exactly what shots he was gonna do and how he was going to visually play the story out. The gore looks great. The flow is pretty much exceptional. There’s actual tension and suspense. And when humor is used, it’s actually pretty funny. Roth also uses locations well, making them characters of their own. And as you watch, it’s obvious he was inspired by other slasher films. The opening is a take on the opening scene of the original HALLOWEEN. The Thanksgiving Parade is straight out of 1997’s I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. There’s a Thanksgiving dinner scene that’s obviously a homage to 1981’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. And we have a love angle that seems to be inspired by 1981’s MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Just really cool how Roth incorporated all of this to make a fun throwback slasher.
The cast is good as well. Nell Verlaque is solid as Jessica, the Final Girl who is smart and aware of bad things when they happen. Verlaque is sympathetic and likable. Patrick Dempsey returns to horror as Sheriff Newton, portraying a convincing authority figure who sometimes seems over his head when it comes to the slashings. Jalen Thomas Brooks is good as Bobby, Jessica’s returning ex-boyfriend. While he comes across as reliable and likable, some of Brooks’ actions for his character make you question his true motives. Same goes to Milo Manheim as Ryan, Jessica’s current boyfriend who seems to have a chip on his shoulder, making you wonder what his deal is. Addison Rae, Gabriel Davenport and especially Tomaso Sanelli are good as Jessica’s friends - especially Saneilli, who plays a jock who you wouldn’t mind getting picked off for how he behaves and treats other people. And it’s always cool to see character actors like Rick Hoffman and Gina Gershon in supporting roles.
THE FINAL HOWL
THANKSGIVING is worth the 16-year wait, as it plays by the old school slasher rules and has a good time doing so. With a solid cast and your typical whodunit slasher mystery, the movie ends up being a fun ride due to archetypes that have a bit more depth than expected, wild gore sequences and a strong use of locations and set pieces that build a lot more tension and atmosphere than I was expecting. It’s also nice to see an engaged Eli Roth direct one of his best movies in his filmography, playing homage to many familiar slasher movies while putting his own twist on each one. The film looks good, the pacing is solid and the humor actually works in the movie’s favor. Plus, this John Carver villain has a great look and could be a cult icon if the film becomes more successful to create a franchise out of. THANKSGIVING doesn’t reinvent the slasher wheel and the villain’s identity is pretty easy to figure out, which took away the mystery aspect for me. But overall, I had a lot of fun with a movie I’ve been waiting a long time for and it didn't disappoint for the most part. THANKSGIVING will probably be an annual movie tradition for me every end of November.
(8 out of 10)