Last year, I did an article about three brand Christmas films that hit theaters. With so many wonderful, Christmas classics out there, could these become regular staples that’ll be seeing around the holidays for years to come? The conclusion was no, outside of maybe Illumination’s The Grinch. This may be due to what was it based on. The films were rather forgettable to being downright bad, though Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer was in a fun way.
One year later and it’s time for another look at some new holiday films! Will these new films become holiday classics for years to come or resonate in a way that sticks with certain audiences? Let’s look at our two films.
First up is Last Christmas! The movie is about a woman called Katarina/Kate, played by Emilia Clarke. She has been down on her luck for a long time, a deep cynic with little regard for her family or herself, and has just about given up on everything. One day during the holiday season, she spots a handsome man named Tom, played by Henry Golding, outside the window of the store she works at. He’s looking up so she heads outside to see what he is looking up at. From there, her life heads down a brighter, better path.
Last Christmas reminds me of the Hallmark Christmas movies I watched when I visited my grandma during the holidays. It is a very sweet film, but one that you can predict how it’ll play out. Kate and her family issues? Kate’s issues at work or with friends? Kate and her feelings towards this random, but charming stranger? It’s all fairly predictable as a lot of romantic comedies/dramedies. The only thing that really doesn’t play out is the twist towards the end. But, some Hallmark movies have had these kinds of twists before, so there’s really nothing here that’ll have you guessing.
But that’s not really the point with Last Christmas or romantic comedies in the end, is it? It’s a formula you’ve seen played out to the point where it has been parodied quite a bit (even with 2019’s Isn’t It Romantic). As silly and overly schmaltzy as it can get, it does work. Clarke and Golding do have good chemistry together. Their scenes are touching and it’s good to see Clarke continuing to grow and become a better person. Some of the humor really can get a good chuckle out of you. Even with its ridiculous twist, I did find myself completely invested and crying. The movie got me and bravo to it.
Last Christmas is a film that’s very predictable and that you’ve seen played out before. What makes this one succeed is its sincerity, solid acting, good romantic chemistry, and sickly sweetness. Of our two films, this is the best. It will probably not become a Christmas classic or anything. But, if you are in the mood for a romantic evening with your special someone during the holidays, you could do worse than Last Christmas.
Our second film is a real tonal shift in comparison to the last film and even the ones from last year. It is Black Christmas, a loose remake/reimagining of the 1974 classic slasher film. A college girl named Riley, played by Imogen Poots, is staying on campus for the holidays with some of her sorority sisters as everyone else leaves. After she and a few of her friends take a pot shot at AKO fraternity during their talent show, a middle finger to its president for raping Riley and getting away with it, bad things begin to happen. Friends start vanishing, threatening texts appear, and murders start to arise. Things are about to get very dark for our poor heroine.
I have never seen the original Black Christmas or its remake. I am aware of their reputations, one being a groundbreaker for the slasher genre and the other being rather notorious for its bleak quality, but that’s it. I can’t compare it to the others, so I’m left judging it as its own standalone thing, which seems to be for the best given how different it is from either film outside of a few points.
Black Christmas 2019 is a film with a statement to make. I’ve heard word that the creators pushed the message a bit over the plot and even had the movie cut from an R rating to a PG-13 so its statement could more easily reach a younger audience given its timely subject matter. The movie wears its message on its sleeve and all over itself on the dangers of toxic masculinity, aggressive patriarchy, intolerance and not taking rape seriously, and so on. It hammers those points in over and over, often with a lot of familiar buzzwords and phrases that are pretty common. It gets downright silly at times, but its message is clear, and it is not really a bad one to have given our climate. These are topics perfect for discussion and analyzing in a film.
That being said, the movie went so hard and deep into this singular point that it neglected almost everything else about it. Black Christmas is just not very good of a horror film. Outside of its opening scene and some tense, stalking moments through a dark house, nothing is particularly scary. All the jump scares are set up so you can easily see them coming and remove tension. The threatening texts aren’t very scary, and some of the climactic moments are just kind of silly. For slasher fans, there aren’t any good or memorable deaths. Either choppy editing or the camera quickly cutting before seeing anything gruesome. Even the bad guy deaths aren’t satisfying, which you would hope for, given how everything is played out.
And even ignoring the poor horror, the rest of the movie is not well written. The bad guys are painfully obvious from the get-go, the story feels like it drags for most of the film before rushing through a lot of the slasher action when it happens later on, the ending is far too abrupt for its own good, the supernatural twist muddies the water with the villains, and most of the cast are not interesting. We barely know anything about Landon, Riley’s love interest, and the rest of the sorority girls, which are just victims to be murdered with no real character. The only one with a personality beyond Riley is Kris, but she is awful. She unintentionally causes the movie’s plot to kick off to begin with, she is very obnoxious and feels like a parody of activists instead of someone that feels sincere or real, and she is pushy to the point where it feels like she is hurting Riley more than helping.
The only other thing the film does right by is the character of Riley. Imogen Potts really nails this character down and you feel for her the entire time. The shots with her reliving her trauma to the final confrontation are just heavy and nailed perfectly. I just really wish she had a better script to work with.
Black Christmas has a strong message and main character, but lacks in almost everywhere else. It has the best of intentions, but it wasn’t able to meld them together with its plot, writing, and characters. There are just better Christmas horror movies, ones that are even PG-13 like Krampus. There’s just not much here to recommend other than giving it a try if its on Netflix in the future.
And so ends this year’s look at Christmas movies. One was a story we’ve seen plenty of times before but was still sincere and sweet. The other had its heart in the right place but a mess everywhere else. If only there was one that was universally good all around that could be recommended this holiday season. Either way, have a happy holidays folks and hopefully we have more Christmas flicks next year to dive into.