‘Black Christmas’ is an interesting take on college horror

While some may critique its lack of subtlety, Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas is exactly the kind of energy we need going into the 2020 election cycle. Why subtweet Nazis with antifascist undertones when you can just have your characters roll up their sleeves and get the purge done themselves? (GPG: 4/5).

Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

I wouldn’t call Black Christmas a horror film so much as a satire that makes use of horror tropes. Set on a prestigious college’s campus, Black Christmas follows a group of girls in a fictional sorority house as they finish up their finals and prepare to leave for winter break. “Riley” (Imogen Poots) is organizing an “orphan’s dinner” for the students left on campus, which includes two of her best friends, “Kris” (Aleyse Shannon) and “Marty” (Lily Donaghue). However, the trouble starts when Riley, Kris, and Marty inadvertently bring down trouble on their holiday celebrations by performing a dance at a popular fraternity’s talent show that brings up the issue of sexual assault on campus.

In an imitation of the iconic “Jingle Bell Rock” scene from Mean Girls, the girls put on scanty Santa Claus outfits and perform a risque dance routine for all the Greek students at their school. The crowd starts booing, though, when the lyrics to their song reveal that while they’re singing about holiday hook-ups, the hook-ups in question are not consensual. Lyrics like “up in the frat house, click click click, you slipped me a roofie and then your dick” and “ho ho ho, I didn’t know” put the girls in the crosshairs of the fraternity and cult who hosted the holiday talent show in the first place.

After the show, the ancillary sisters we’ve been introduced to over the course of the first act start getting axed. The film does a good job of making these deaths matter to the audience despite how little we know the characters, from the sardonic cat-loving sister who needs a diva cup from Riley in one of the first scenes to the shy but stylish Jesse, whose voice is basically the stereotype of how sorority girls are supposed to sound but who’s hardly a stereotype in any other way. As these ladies are killed, there are periodic appearances from Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes), a professor with Jordan Peterson vibes who Kris had circulated a petition about the semester before. You guessed it; he’s the frat cult’s faculty advisor.

Black Christmas reveals the men in charge of our society for what they are and doesn’t apologize for dishing out the justice they deserve. While it might be hitting its themes over the head at times, I doubt any victim of patriarchy who watches this movie will feel that its zealousness is out of line with the severity of the real-life horror it depicts. In fact, the story of Riley realizing that active resistance and conflict is the only answer to rape culture is the main “hero’s journey” arc of the film. Kris, the activist of the group, is always encouraging Riley to “be a fighter,” and it’s only when all the sorority girls join together to do just that that they are able to win true safety for themselves. If you and your own sisters are together for the holiday season, I encourage you all to get fired up for what’s to come in 2020 by going to see this funny, freaky, and socially conscious film.

Below, I get into a couple factors at the end of the movie that I thought did a particularly good job of getting the message of sisterhood and militant feminism across. If you don’t mind the spoilers then great, and if you do then you should probably come back here after you’ve seen the movie to hear my thoughts on the ending!

(Spoilers!) The film also turns the trope of the “final girl” on its head by making it seem like Riley is meant to take down this cult on her own when really her sisters burst in to save her at the last second. In the horror genre, the “final girl” generally is the one who is chaste, smart, or brave enough to outsmart the monsters and make it to the end of the movie, but instead of being the last girl to survive Riley is saved at the last second by all the women who we thought were out of commission. This sends the message that Riley isn’t quote-unquote “not like other girls,” but rather that every girl needs her sisters to fight against the patriarchy. If the other sisters hadn’t come back to save her, she probably would have been one more victim of male violence under patriarchy and the film wouldn’t have had a very merry ending after all.

Another complicated figure in the film is a sorority girl who betrays Riley and her friends to the fraternity in the first place, stealing personal items from each of them so that the frat guys can target them with their evil patriarchal magic. In a very realistic turn of events, the ritual kills her first–the frat guys don’t limit their violence to women who don’t follow their rules. Fran stammers “but…but I did everything you said!” as a brother possessed by the spirit of Nathaniel Hawthorne menacingly advances on her and snaps her neck. Serves her right, as far as I’m concerned. Anyone playing Kellyanne Conway to these guys clearly isn’t doing anything useful with her spinal cord anyway.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (12/20/19)

Does Black Christmas pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! The film is about a group of sorority girls who talk about everything from their holiday plans to their diva cups.

Top Photo: One of the gruesome sights that haunts the girls of Black Christmas.

Middle Photo: Kris, the social justice warrior of the sorority.

Bottom Photo: One of the first victims.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Tags: Black Christmas, FF2 Media, Horror, womeninfilm

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films. Some of her favorite FF2 pieces she's written are her review of The Game Changers, her feature on Black Christmas, and her interview with the founders of the Athena Film Festival! You can also find more of her work on her website!
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