This holiday season… prepare to have the stuffing scared out of you.
Thanksgiving… you’ll come home for the holidays… in a body bag.
Remember some of these voice-overs in one of the fake trailers featured in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature Grindhouse back in 2007? Well, it sure took Eli Roth long enough to finally bring Thanksgiving to life after 16 years of a wait. By comparison, the other fake trailer Machete directed by Robert Rodriguez already had two movies released in 2010 and 2013.
One of the reasons causing the long delay has to do with the rights issues but now that it’s already here, I’m curious whether he can live up to the gleefully macabre thrills of his fake trailer. Besides, Eli Roth’s filmography has been largely erratic these days with his first two features, Cabin Fever and Hostel still his best works to date.
But first, the story. It begins with a grisly prologue set in Plymouth, Massachusetts as we witness a mob of shoppers eagerly waiting in line for Right Mart superstore to open on a Black Friday promotion. But it soon becomes a riot when they see a group of teenagers — among them is Jessica (Nell Verlaque), whose father Thomas (Rick Hoffman) happens to own the store — somehow manage to get early access before them.
From there, everything runs out of control. The crowd goes crazy, causing a stampede as some of them end up badly injured and even resulting in several deaths.
A year after the tragic incident, it’s business as usual as Right Mart superstore is busy preparing for an upcoming Black Friday sale. A mysterious killer dressed as a pilgrim, complete with a John Carver (the first governor of Plymouth Colony in the early 1620s) mask and a hat adorned with a buckle, begins stalking whoever is responsible for the tragedy that night. Among the victims-to-be on the killer’s list include Jessica, her father and her friends.
Thanksgiving gets off to a promising start with the aforementioned opening riot-turned-massacre scene in the Right Mart superstore. The combination of gore, violence and pitch-black satire on the consumerism related to the Black Friday craze sure fulfils the irreverent tone and feel of Eli Roth’s 2007 fake trailer. It was easily the best scene in the movie.
What follows next is more of a typical slasher movie, complete with a guess-who’s-the-masked-killer mystery angle. Screenwriter Jeff Rendell, who also wrote the previous fake trailer, sticks to the comfort zone of the genre convention. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t reinvent the wheel other than wanting you to sit back and just enjoy the bloody ride.
Roth doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the brutal killing and gore department. Victims are stabbed, hacked and mutilated in various gruesome manners. He also succeeds in staging effective suspenseful moments, notably a scene in the room with lots of mannequin heads on display. The creepy introduction of the predominantly silent, pilgrim-wearing John Carver killer who dispatched the victim mostly with an axe is bound to be a horror icon joining the ranks of Ghostface and Michael Myers among others.
And while the John Carver killer steals the show in Thanksgiving, the rest of the characters here are rather one-note. It’s hard to root for these characters to see whether they can survive at the end of the day. The movie also suffers from a clunky third act alongside a surprisingly underwhelming finale.
Thanksgiving may have lacked Eli Roth’s creative peak seen in Cabin Fever and Hostel but it sure delivers its gory fun, albeit a few hiccups.