The horror genre consists primarily of two types of films at the moment: You have your elevated horror movies, which tackle social issues, and you have your shlocky PG-13 films designed to get as many teenagers as possible into theaters for opening weekend. Honestly, I like them both. Thanks to Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and some others, horror has never been as smart as it is now. But it’s the likes of James Wan and Jason Blum who are putting all those butts in seats and delivering genuinely fun, communal theatergoing experiences.
But sometimes, you want some old-school gore, and that’s where Eli Roth comes in. Roth’s particular brand of nihilistic ultraviolence in films like Hostel and Cabin Fever rightfully fell out of favor over the last decade, but with Thanksgiving, Roth marries R-Rated violence with a sense of humor and the same kind of energy that puts all those butts in seats. The result is a film that is inconsequential but also a hell of a lot of fun.
Based on a mock trailer from 2007’s Grindhouse, Patrick Dempsey is the name on the marquee playing the sheriff of Plymouth, Massachusetts (here, unfortunately, played by Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, although Massholes will appreciate insulting nods to Hanover and Methuen). Most of the action takes place the year after a Black Friday riot left several dead in a mall store owned by Thomas Wright (Suits’ Rick Hoffman), owing to his daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) and her friends entering the store early and taunting keyed-up shoppers waiting for the mall to open.
The following year, a serial killer begins picking off all those responsible for the Black Friday stampede, including Jessica and her friends. The Carver — who wears a John Carver mask — sets a Thanksgiving table with the bodies (or body parts) of his victims as he readies his feast.
There’s not much else to it. There’s a mystery about who the Carver is, and the reveal is fun. Mostly, however, Thanksgiving is about watching The Carver murder obnoxious high school kids and others in creatively gruesome ways. At the same time, Patrick Dempsey’s sheriff tries to figure out the killer’s identity before the final girl becomes another dish on his Thanksgiving table.
Thanksgiving is an old-school slasher pic; it is a blast, and it is decidedly not PG-13. It’s basically a hard-R Scream film set during Thanksgiving. It seems like Roth — and screenwriter/high-school friend/frequent collaborator Jeff Rendell — are having a great time making a $10 million film without the pressure to recoup a large studio investment. It means Roth can go hard, and he does not exercise restraint. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but while the rest of the family is spending Thanksgiving weekend watching The Hunger Games prequel or Wish, many of you might want to sneak into the adjacent theater with your horror-obsessed family members to watch Thanksgiving.