In the spirit of the holiday, we go back for seconds and stuff our faces full of more satisfying “Thanksgiving” horror from Eli Roth.
Originally pitched to horror fans as a spoof trailer in 2007’s Grindhouse, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving has finally arrived as a full-length feature, though not quite in the manner we expected.
A refreshing blend of sensibilities from those classic slashers of the 80s and 90s, gone is the rough grunginess of the trailer, replaced with rich autumnal color and pristine cinematic quality. Written by Jeff Rendell, the film may skimp on the depth of character and doesn’t quite know how to handle its sizable ensemble, but nonetheless delivers a satisfying, gruesome meal, as it intends.
One year after a Black Friday sale turns deadly, a puritan-clad killer begins picking off the ones responsible.
With Roth at the helm, one would rightfully anticipate a slew of gory deaths, and that promise is certainly fulfilled by the chaotic and tense opening sequence. Beheading, bisecting, bludgeoning, and all sorts of horrific traumas are soon inflicted on the supporting cast.
What is most surprising, then, is Roth’s restraint.
Despite the constant flow of blood and entrails, the film doesn’t become exploitative, never veering into abject cruelty and always keeping its dial on having a fun, timely story to tell.
As protagonists Jessica and Bobby, Nell Verlaque and Jalen Thomas Brooks are the core of the film, with Verlaque exhibiting the presence of a young Julia Roberts. Patrick Dempsey adds further gravitas as the stalwart Sheriff Newlon.
There is one flaw that prevents Thanksgiving from being an instant classic. While the cast is highly charismatic, the screenplay doesn’t imbue the killer’s targets with much specificity, some exceptions aside. Additionally, the killer’s identity is rather easy to guess if you’re watching closely, and the concluding moments seem out of sync with the thrill ride that preceded them.
Still, there is more than enough to recommend this as one of the finest slashers in years and the best work of Eli Roth’s career to date.
His command of pacing and suspense is particularly impressive here, aided by Brandon Roberts’ rousing score and Milan Chadima’s expertly lensed cinematography.
Thanksgiving is a dark satire as much as a whodunit or a holiday horror, unmasking the altruistic holiday spirit to reveal the greed and selfishness beneath. That is a theme many of us can discern with each passing year in society, and it’s great fun to watch it being skewered head-on (and head-off, for that matter).