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Review: ‘Thanksgiving’ is a Holiday-Themed Horror Throwback that Carves Off More than It Can Chew

November 15, 2023Ben MK

When it comes to seasonal holidays, the transition from Halloween to Christmas can often be an abrupt one, with bite-sized candy treats, spooky costumes, and ghoulish decorations replaced in the blink of an eye with candy canes, Christmas carols and yuletide cheer. It's a tonal shift that can be seen everywhere, especially in the media, with horror-themed movies and TV shows giving way to more festive films and programming. Enter the latest from director Eli Roth, however, which endeavors to bridge the gap between Halloween and Christmas with a gory kill-fest set around Thanksgiving.

The place is Plymouth, Massachusetts, and in the town where the very first English pilgrims famously arrived in what was soon to be known as United States of America, things have drastically changed from the way they once were four centuries ago. Call it modern-day consumerism run amok or just plain old greed, Thanksgiving has gone from a family-centric celebration of everything we already have to a shameless excuse for shopping just for the sake of it. And with the annual Black Friday sales now starting one day earlier, on Thanksgiving evening, not even the wealthy Wright family can enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner in peace. The teenage daughter of the founder of big-box store Right Mart (Rick Hoffman), Jessica Wright (Nell Verlaque) is no stranger to her father's entrepreneurial tendency to put business before family. But when Right Mart's ill-thought-out Black Friday launch ends with the voracious crowd of would-be shoppers causing a brutal and deadly stampede in the store, it sets the stage for a bloody and revenge-fuelled murder spree by a mysterious, axe-wielding maniac.

Fast forward one year later, and despite Right Mart's best efforts to sway public opinion on their business practices, not everyone in Plymouth is convinced that store should stay open, especially on Turkey Day. However, when one such individual starts violently taking out his grievances on some of the people he deems responsible for the riot, it plunges the entire town's populace into a panic, especially Jessica and her friends Gabby (Addison Rae), Evan (Tomaso Sanelli), Scuba (Gabriel Davenport) and Yulia (Jenna Warren). Personally singled out by the vengeful psychopath, who has adopted the moniker John Carver, due to the mask he wears of Plymouth's first governor, the five high school seniors must find a way to uncover the true identity of the serial killer before they become victims themselves. But with everyone a suspect — from Jessica's ex-boyfriend, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), to the town's Sheriff, Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) — doing so may be easier said than done.

Following in the bloody footsteps of Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun, the result sees the faux trailer from 2007's Grindhouse expanded to full-on feature length. And, suffice to say, for those horror aficionados who have long been anticipating Roth's reimagining of his twisted, two-minute crowd-pleaser, Thanksgiving is mostly worth the wait. Whether it's relishing the movie's many creative and over-the-top grisly deaths — which range from bisection by garbage dumpster to disembowelment by table saw — or revelling in the well-worn genre clichés that screenwriter Jeff Rendell has, for better or worse, chosen to unironically indulge in, there's no shortage of gruesome gore and laugh-out-loud one-liners to keep moviegoers entertained. For viewers searching for a slasher film with a little more depth, though, there's precious little here to satisfy that appetite.

Of course, this isn't the type of movie to be taken too seriously. And even though it doesn't have its tongue planted too firmly in its cheek, there's definitely a subtle sense of self-awareness present that helps keep this exercise in murderous mayhem from feeling too rote. Ultimately, however, it's the hardcore horror fans that will get the most mileage out of everything Thanksgiving has to offer. Which is to say that while it's most certainly not a turkey, its appeal is far too niche to carve a big, meaty slice out of the box office.

Thanksgiving releases November 17th, 2023 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, pervasive language and some sexual material. Its runtime is 1 hr. 47 min.

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