A deranged serial killer is on the loose. Not the first time that’s been the cornerstone of a slasher/horror film; but Thanksgiving is the latest gore-fest to use it.
It’s Thanksgiving 2022 and we are in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the US national holiday. But for many, Thanksgiving is no longer a public holiday as Black Friday sales now start on that day, Thursday. And the public is champing at the bit to get their hands of the latest and greatest bargains that come with the sales. A pack mentality develops, as they crash through the closed doors of a department store in an open slather stampede. In a nightmare scenario, people fall and are cut, bloodied, trampled on, scalped and killed.
A redneck schoolkid Evan (Tomaso Sanelli), records the riot on his mobile phone. A year on, the store’s wealthy owner (Rick Hoffman) decides to ignore advice and again open up the retailer on that fateful day. But those involved in, and innocent bystanders to, the fracas are receiving videos of the massacre on their mobiles. That includes Jessica (Nell Verlaque), the centrepiece of a group of teen friends and the glue that holds everyone together. Also in the collective are Jessica’s bestie Gabby (Addison Rae), Yulia (Jenna Warren) and Scuba (Gabriel Davenport).
Little do they know it, but a special Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared and it is their heads – quite literally – on the chopping block. One by one they are being picked off to meet a horrific fate, the killer sporting a John Carver mask – Carver being the first governor of the Plymouth colony. Sheriff Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) is in a race against time to stop the brutal slayings, but is losing the battle. To add to the tension, Jessica is caught in a love triangle between Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) and Ryan (Milo Manheim), who don’t like each other.
Jeff Rendell and Eli Roth, the latter of whom also directs, have created a memorable ode to ‘80s slasher/horror. In fact, Roth’s journey to making this film started in 2006 when his friends Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were working on their double feature Grindhouse. At that time, Tarantino asked his buddies, including Roth, to create fake trailers that would appeal to the Grindhouse crowd.
The scares in Thanksgiving are real, while Brandon Roberts’ score elevates the tension. Nobody is safe. The killer appears to take great pride and pleasure in stalking and eviscerating his prey. The filmmakers capitalise on busied sets, shade and darkness. I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the axe to fall, time and again.
Dempsey approaches his role as sheriff with empathy and determination, trying to calm the understandable fear that pervades the community. Given what is happening around her, Nell Verlaque remains remarkably calm and levelheaded as Jessica. Among the male high school students, there is a boyish meathead mentality. Of course, as the plot unfolds the question is who is responsible for the carnage. Fortunately, that is well disguised.
Eli Roth has done a good job with the material that should satisfy die-hard fans of the genre.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.