Sixteen years after contributing a fake trailer for a slasher called “Thanksgiving” to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, Eli Roth has delivered the feature that trailer promised. Sort of.
Narratively, Thanksgiving (2023) feels like it has more in common with Pretty Little Liars, a show about a group of teens being menaced by a mysterious figure that frequently sends out mass texts, than the absurd genre exercises of the other Grindhouse films.
The film delivers on its promise of blood and guts early on, with a Black Friday-sale inspired riot that claims the lives of multiple people and maims more in joyously graphic ways. That joy emanates throughout much of the film in its broadly drawn characters, several with thick Massachusetts accents given the film’s setting in Plymouth, and phenomenal practical effects. The story, about a masked killer slashing people involved with that riot a year later, is standard slasher stuff but adds an unnecessary layer of cat and mouse with the introduction of a social media account for the killer.
The account calls itself, and thereby the killer, “John Carver,” the first governor of the original Plymouth colony whose visage is on the mask worn during murders. “Carver” tags the five lead teens in an early post because he holds them responsible for the riot and the deaths it caused. They were able to sneak into the store as a crowd waited outside because Jessica (Nell Verlaque) is the daughter of the store’s owner, and from inside some of her more obnoxious friends taunted their rivals outside. Once the riot started, Evan (Tomaso Sanelli) was more excited about filming it for the internet than helping anyone, including his girlfriend.
The very relevant critique of capitalism leading to an eruption of violence on what’s meant to be a holiday lands well enough early on, with characters discussing the cruel irony of working on Thanksgiving. But that satirical target soon disappears in favor of a somewhat dated focus on those darn kids and their desperation for virality. Soon that critique falls by the wayside as well, leaving a slasher with social media as a core plot-driver for no real reason.
That’s well enough as the film succeeds most when it leans into its more ridiculous and cliche elements, including its many purposefully silly, but still incredibly gory murder sequences. In fact, Thanksgiving’s greatest strength is its often frankly stupid dialogue and low-brow black humor. But like the critiques, that humor eventually evaporates, too, leaving the final act of the film feeling more like checkboxes being ticked than the delighted romp through viscera that came before.
Fans of slashers will be satisfied, as the film delivers on gore and is plotted well enough. But besides the fantastic practical gore effects, there’s nothing particularly special about Thanksgiving, it’s just dumb holiday fun — sometimes that’s all you want.
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Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving doesn’t entirely deliver on the promise of the 2007 trailer, but slasher fans will enjoy the practical gore and black humor.
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