IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE movie poster | ©2023 RLJE Films/Shudder

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE movie poster | ©2023 RLJE Films/Shudder

Rating: R
Stars: Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, William B. Davis, Justin Long, Aiden Howard, Erin Boyes, Sean Depner, Zenia Marshall, Jason Fernandes, Hana Huggins, Cassandra Naud
Writer: Michael Kennedy
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Distributor: RLJE Films/Shudder
Release Date: November 10, 2023 (theatrical)

What if the celebrated 1946 Christmas film IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE were also SCREAM? That’s not as impossible a mashup as it perhaps sounds. IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE proves the point.

In IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (for those who need a refresher), despondent Bedford Falls resident George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he’d never been born. Guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) takes George into a reality where George doesn’t exist. Turns out that George actually made life much better (not to mention possible altogether in some cases) for his family and the whole town.

In IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE, Angel Falls high school senior Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) saves her brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard) and untold other victims by terminating a masked serial killer. A year later, though, she’s still lost friends, her parents seem in denial that anything ever happened, her boyfriend is unfaithful, and life is generally crummy.

Like George, Winnie gets on a bridge and wonders if everyone would be better off if she’d never been born. Instead of an angel, Winnie gets the Aurora Borealis, but is quick to see that nobody except the serial killer would be better off. In this reality, her brother is dead, the killer has kept up his dastardly acts (with a pattern), and odious realty developer Henry Waters (Justin Long) has become mayor.

What does Winnie need to do to save herself, save the town, and get back to her own timeline? Let’s say that anybody who’s seen a slasher can make an educated guess.

George Bailey never had to deal with these issues, but still writer Michael Kennedy tips his hat as much as possible to LIFE. It’s a relief, not to mention a big time-saver, that Winnie and her new sidekick Bernie (Jess McLeod) are both aware enough of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE to name-check George and Clarence. We even get some film clips of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (an even earlier version of the idea).

Kennedy and director Tyler MacIntyre have fun with what they’re doing, but never elbow us too hard in the ribs. They also ever so gently tackle more serious concepts like teen suicide and corporate rapaciousness. We get identifiable emotional stakes, but the filmmakers don’t try to pound them through our hearts.

Instead, those who know LIFE can be amused at KNIFE’s substitutions for its specifics. Everybody (well, everybody who likes slashers) can enjoy the brisk pace, costume design (there’s an outfit that recalls the SCREAM killer without copying it), and personable performances from Widdop and McLeod.

Long provides a vocal homage to LIFE’s ‘40s roots with an accent reminiscent of character actors of that era. Genre stalwarts Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, and William B. Davis all make solid contributions in roles of various sizes.

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is unpretentious fun. At under ninety minutes, it’s just the right size for feel-good Christmas horror.

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