2023, R, 106 min. Directed by Eli Roth. Starring Nell Verlaque, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hoffman, Karen Cliche, Addison Rae, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Milo Manheim.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 17, 2023
It's always nice to see someone get to finish something. Back in 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino invited friends and fans to make fake trailers to fill the intermission for their homage to exploitation double-bills, Grindhouse. Three of the five fake trailers have now been made into films: Rodriguez's own Mexploitation classic Machete, Jason Eisner's vengeance-fueled Hobo With a Shotgun, and now Eli Roth's Thanksgiving, a loving, gory, ribald slasher flick that is both serious about the genre and gruesomely ridiculous.
Slashers break down into two basic types: the monster chase, where the known and often iconic villain lumbers or sneaks after their victims, and the whodunit, where a mysterious figure enacts some kind of bloody retribution for perceived wrongs, often revealed in an Agatha Christie-esque explanatory speech. Thanksgiving is definitely the latter, and as is often the way it's hard not to sympathize at least a little with the maniac wearing a mask of John Carver (the first governor of Plymouth Colony, history fans) and butchering the population of Plymouth, Mass. Or, at least, the ones the Carver sees as culpable for the Black Friday stampede at the local megastore that saw several people trampled to death: murdered by the consumerism-crazed mob that Roth captures in loving, grisly detail. Even though it's all caught with a certain breezy energy, it's also laden with slowly building tension, and Roth once again proves that he's a director whose schlock sensibilities have cunning underpinnings. It's a memorable addition to the pantheon of great slasher openings, and reveals two essential lists: one of potential killers, and one of seemingly inevitable victims, plus the clear if not overly memorable final girl in Jessica (Verlaque). She's the big target because it was her mercenary stepmom (Cliche) convinced her storeowner dad (Hoffman doing stellar Dr. Eggman cosplay) to open on Thanksgiving, and she and her friends all stood by for the carnage. OK, so she's not necessarily the most likable final girl, but she's a fine protagonist to cut down the red herring-laden suspect list as the killer indulges in some very inventive revenge.
It's an odd quirk that Roth has followed up his first kids film (2018 charming gateway horror The House With a Clock in Its Walls) with his most raucously juvenile film to date. He upcycles the trailer's kills with more panache and budget (even the squeal-inducing trampoline sequence makes a modified appearance), takes knowing potshots at his fellow Massholes, and quite unexpectedly provides a case study for actually integrating social media into a movie. Rejoice, filmmakers, you do not have to deprive your characters of their phones after all!
So, now we're almost done with all those Grindhouse trailers. Seriously, when do we finally get Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS?