by Heather Wixson
After more than 16 years, Eli Roth is finally fulfilling his horror destiny with the feature film version of Thanksgiving. The original faux trailer, which was featured as part of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature presentation back in 2007, was conceived by Roth and his long-time friend/collaborator Jeff Rendell as their own hilariously grotesque tribute to all of the holiday-themed genre movies of yesteryear.
The duo had no idea that fans would continuously demand to see more Thanksgiving over the next decade and a half, and now Roth and Rendell are back to finally give horror aficionados what they have patiently been waiting for. “Thank”fully, the results are wickedly fun slasher whodunit that perfectly pays tribute to a number of great ‘80s horror films that many of us grew up loving, as well as giving off some serious ‘90s horror vibes, all while delivering up a new holiday horror classic that fans will definitely want to revisit every November for years to come (I know I will!).
Caught in the mix are Jessica’s friends – Gabby (Addison Rae), Gabby’s jock boyfriend Evan (Tomaso Sanelli), Yulia (Jenna Warren), and her quick-witted boyfriend “Scuba” (Gabriel Davenport), as well as Jessica’s current beau Ryan (Milo Manheim) and her previous boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) who ghosted her after being injured at the doomed Black Friday sale – as well as her dad Thomas (Rick Hoffman) and stepmom Kathleen (Karen Cliche) and some other random Plymouth residents who are prime for the picking.
Why Thanksgiving worked as well as it did for me (beyond the fact that slasher movies are easily my biggest cinematic catnip when it comes to any kind of horror movie) is because Roth and Rendell were extremely smart about how they approached their story here and really did a fantastic job of delivering all the viscera-soaked mayhem fans would be expecting due to several key moments in the original trailer, but they recontextualize them for current sensibilities without ever sacrificing the horrors that they might contain (basically, yes, there is a trampoline scene in this Thanksgiving).
As mentioned, Thanksgiving is very much a viciously entertaining exercise in modern horror, but there’s a lot of love for both ‘80s and ‘90s horror showcased throughout the film. The initial trailer for Thanksgiving immediately reminded me of the original My Bloody Valentine, and Roth definitely delivers on that front (a tight-knit community terrorized during a favorite local holiday? Heck yes!). But there are also homages to other films from that era (era) including Terror Train, Happy Birthday to Me, and April Fool’s Day, to name a few, and those moments of reverence made me completely giddy. There are also some hat tips to several ‘90s horror movies in the mix here, too (Scream and Urban Legend), and yet, Thanksgiving still very much feels wholly like its own thing all the same. And while there might be other genre films out there that have been able to walk this line before (I think the Sorority Row remake qualifies), I just don’t know if any have done it quite as successfully as Roth has done it with his approach in Thanksgiving.
Even though I fully enjoyed all of the banana-pants mayhem that Roth throws at us in his latest, I do have a few minor quibbles with Thanksgiving, particularly in the film’s final 20 minutes. Everything that precedes those final moments of Thanksgiving is extremely well-paced, and we really get a great balance of character moments, tension, and terror, but the finale feels extremely rushed in comparison, where we even lose a few characters along the way who just happen to pop up before the credits start to roll. Was it enough to derail my overall enjoyment? Hardly. But I do wish the ending of Thanksgiving matched the pacing and storytelling purposefulness that preceded it because it absolutely ruled up until that point (it’s still totally great, though).
Thanksgiving is in theaters this Friday.