Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving first came to life as one of the fake trailers in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s ill-fated Grindhouse experiment. Now supersized as a feature in its own right, Thanksgiving is a seasonal slasher that pits a masked, axe-wielding maniac against a group of college kids and assorted townsfolk.
Jessica (Nell Verlaque) and her friends visit her father’s store for a Black Friday sale, which turns to tragedy after a mob of angry shoppers get riled up and storm the understaffed building. The result is several grisly deaths and an unsubtle but amusing comment on the state of both social media and rampant holiday consumerism.
Cut to one year later and the town of Plymouth is still scarred by the previous year’s events – the local community divided by bitter acrimony and recrimination over the tragedy, and the fact that Jessica’s father (Rick Hoffman) avoided any criminal responsibility.
As the town gears up for another Thanksgiving celebration, Jessica and her friends find themselves tagged by a mysterious holiday-themed Instagram account, soon realising a masked killer – dressed as town founding father John Carver – is picking off the residents of Plymouth and exacting bloody revenge on those he holds responsible for the disaster.
The big question for Thanksgiving is whether or not it works as a fully-fledged movie, or if it’s one of those ideas – like previous Grindhouse trailer conversions Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun – that work better in small doses. Fortunately, the answer is that Thanksgiving works very well. Eli Roth really understood the brief.
Thanksgiving follows the tried and tested template of a masked killer stalking obnoxious townsfolk to their grisly end, but the gore is fun and plentiful with a swathe of inventive killings and a thread of black humour that stops it from ever getting too mean or too miserable. So, we get assault by fridge, death by dumpster, and the most deeply disturbing family dinner since the Texas Chainsaw family decided to invite Marilyn Burns over.
If there are minor gripes to be had, it’s that following the classic slasher recipe so closely comes at the cost of plot originality. There are also a few too many cheap ‘loud noise’ jump scares for my taste. But these pale to insignificance in the context of a movie that is also Eli Roth’s most accomplished and best-acted film yet.
For horror fans and fans of the slasher movie in particular, Thanksgiving doesn’t put a foot wrong. Roth has no interest in reinventing the wheel, instead deciding to have heaps of unpretentious fun with a genre that too often forgets to enjoy itself.
Thanksgiving delivers everything you want from its ludicrous premise and sleazy trailer. So, if you’re hankering for the simple pleasures of some seasonal slice and dice, then you’ll find there’s plenty to be thankful for here.