- Director: Eli Roth
- Writer: Eli Roth, Jeff Rendell
- Stars: Nell Verlaque, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hoffman, Ty Olsson, Gina Gershon
Thanksgiving used to be a relaxed, family centered holiday that settled comfortably between Halloween and Christmas, but over the years, this very American holiday managed to become even more American by turning into a shopping holiday wherein greed reigns supreme and the average consumer literally risks their life to score a good deal on a waffle iron. It’s affectionately referred to as Black Friday and it’s this retail centric “holiday” that inspired Eli Roth and co-screenwriter Jeff Rendell to turn their infamous faux Thanksgiving trailer into a full feature film.
Part of the Grindhouse film, Roth and Rendell were pleased with their Thanksgiving trailer and felt they had accomplished everything they wanted to, so they were surprised to find the horror community demanding a feature length film. With the rise of Black Friday trampling videos, they found this to be the ugly side of humanity which they could build a slasher film around. Plymouth, Massachusetts is a beautiful, quaint New England town that revels in it’s pilgrim history and it’s the ideal place for a Thanksgiving massacre. Local business Right Mart holds a Black Friday sale that quickly turns into gladiator games over good deals and the resulting blood bath is both a gory good time for viewers and the inciting incident for John Carver, the newest villain to enter the slasher genre. Wearing a mask that is freely given out to everyone in town, Carver is everywhere and could be anyone, but only one of these literal masks of colonialism is taking out a very specific group of people and posting all of it on social media.
Utilizing social media as one of the tools of mayhem works exceptionally well and also feels eerily realistic. Instead of helping people being trampled, people now film it with their phones so it’s easy to believe that a group of high school students would simply keep checking the Instagram account of a serial killer that is tagging them in their posts. Working with the local sheriff, Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) this modernized Scooby gang bands together to uncover the killer before they all end up on a decidedly unfriendly Thanksgiving table spread. Pun intended.
Jessica (Nell Verlaque) is the titular Final Girl who continually outsmarts the killer while also navigating the various red herrings within the group. In fact, this group of high school students is refreshingly realistic, non annoying and everyone comfortably fits into their token roles. Dempsey eases into his east coast accent and seems very happy to be back in a horror film, Roth fans will recognize Rick Hoffman from Hostel and, really, he’s the perfect guy to play Thomas Wright, the owner of Right Mart.
After spending some time developing various television projects and doing a lot of work advocating for sharks, Roth is back in the horror directing chair and he’s better than ever. Glossy and full of lush colors, Thanksgiving is as beautiful as it is bloody, the kills are numerous and inventive and fans of the original trailer will be pleased to see a certain trampoline scene and turkey mascot scene play out. With a particularly fun scene involving mannequin heads, Roth reminds us why he became a household name in the horror community: the suspense is just right and the misdirects are well done. Roth set out to make a proper slasher and that’s exactly what Thanksgiving is. While the third act feels a tad bit clunky, the overall stellar execution of a fun slasher film makes this gripe completely forgivable.
After years of meta and “elevated” horror, a straight up slasher film that delivers on all counts, is such a fun and refreshing change of pace. Sixteen years in the making, Thanksgiving proves to be worth the wait and is a welcome return to form for Eli Roth.
Thanksgiving is in Cinemas now.