Whatever its flaws, the new version of Black Christmas makes a strong argument for the importance of having a motivation beyond exploiting brand recognition when remaking a movie. In truth, there may not be all that many current moviegoers familiar with the 1974 original, directed by Bob Clark, and the 2006 remake probably has fewer fans. Similar wan nostalgic interest in other properties — especially old horror titles — hasn’t dissuaded studios from taking drably unimaginative new passes at material, believing there’s money to be made by tacking up new, blood-speckled sheetrock to an established framework. Director Sophia Takal takes a different approach.
Takal’s Black Christmas (besides directing, she’s credited alongside April Wolfe on the screenplay) takes place at fictional Hawthorne College, an elite institution starter over a century ago by open misogynist and rumored occultist Caleb Hawthorne. As winter break gets underway, women on campus receive menacing text messages from a figure mysteriously posing as the school’s nasty founder. The threats are not idle, and a body count starts ticking upward like the odometer on a speeding car. Some sorority sisters, led by quickly wary Riley Stone (Imogen Poots), suspect the perpetrators might be connected to the campus’s most notorious fraternity, which is known for covering up sexual assaults in their house. Or maybe the notably sexist classics professor (Cary Elwes) has something to do with it.
Even before the truth of the menace is revealed, Takal makes it clear that all of modern society bears some responsibility for the misery endured by young women. The handy association to make is to the Me Too movement, and there are certainly satiric barbs aplenty hurled at the piggish, reactionary men who’ve met the campaign with whiny self-defensiveness. But the feminist underpinnings Takal brings to the story extend beyond the recent awareness efforts. Black Christmas convincingly and compellingly makes the argument that gender-based discrimination is a constant hindrance for women.
The clear point of view boosts Black Christmas. The overly familiar horror structure drags it down somewhat. Takal misses opportunities to elevate the basic mechanics of the story. The slightly spooky feel of a bustling college campus emptied out for a holiday is barely touched upon, for example. While crackling with attitude, the film is short on mood. The gift of Takal’s perspective remains special. It would still be nice if the wrapping held a little more appeal.