BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes, Simon Mead, Madeleine Adams, Ryan McIntyre
Writers: Sophia Takal & April Wolfe
Director: Sophia Takal
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 13, 2019

Look up BLACK CHRISTMAS on IMDB and, surprise, there are five listed besides the 1974 original, a slasher set in a sorority where most of the sisters have gone home for the holidays.

The new edition, also titled BLACK CHRISTMAS, is likewise a slasher set among the Greek houses during December. However, it’s a safe bet that nobody in 1974 imagined the on-the-sleeve politics of this BLACK CHRISTMAS. Viewers who more or less agree with what becomes a literal battle between feminism and toxic masculinity may be delighted by the contrast between narrative sincerity and modest gore. Those otherwise inclined may still enjoy the horror aspects, but that PG-13 rating keeps things somewhat tame.

Hawthorne College was established in 1819. Its founder spouted a lot of quotes about the greatness of men – in contrast to the less-than-greatness of women. Two hundred years later, activist student Chris (Aleyse Shannon) has succeeded in getting a bust of the founder removed from a public space and relocated to a fraternity house.

This specific frat house is one where Chris’s Mu Kappa sorority sister Riley (Imogen Poots) was roofied and raped while unconscious not long ago. This wouldn’t seem like appropriate fodder for what’s meant to be popcorn entertainment, but BLACK CHRISTMAS shows uncharacteristic sensitivity to Riley’s situation. She’s clearly off-balance, but unwilling to let her entire existence be rerouted by the trauma. Her friends are there for her. Riley, Chris, and their sorority sisters/friends Marty (Lily Donoghue) and Jessie (Brittany O’Grady) then stage a public taunting of the perpetrator and his frat brothers.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) teaser movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) teaser movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

We might think that what happens next is an escalation between fraternity and sorority, except that the audience knows (although the characters don’t) that murders have already occurred. Indeed, the explanation for exactly what’s going on seems calculated to take the edge off goings-on, to make it a little more fanciful and a little less accusatory.

Director Sophia Takal and her co-writer April Wolfe have a good ear for dialogue, including some hilariously on-target confrontations about whether some characters are outraged enough or too outraged. Takal likes to keep the camera moving in suspenseful situations, providing a sense of menace.

The cast is solid, with Poots making us believe in Riley’s ambivalence and Shannon playing Chris’s confidence without stridency. Cary Elwes knows exactly what he’s doing as a professor whose curriculum offends Chris.

There are some issues. For one, if the exteriors of both the frat house and the sorority house are real buildings, they’ve been shot and lit to look like studio fronts (and if they are studio fronts, it shows). Then there are some melee scenes, that are either staged or edited (or both) in ways that prevent us from being able to tell who’s doing what to whom and when.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

Still, if on-the-nose feminist agitprop and slasher horror together strike you as a peanut-butter-and-chocolate-type combination, BLACK CHRISTMAS is a holiday treat.

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