I didn’t plan on reviewing Thanksgiving, I’m not exactly a fan of Eli Roth (Death Wish, The Green Inferno), and I doubted it would play near me anyway. But surprisingly enough it did and several people whose opinion I respect said it was actually pretty good. So I decided to take a chance on it.
Thanksgiving actually opens on Black Friday, as the Plymouth, MA. RightMart’s attempt to jump start the holiday buying season ends in a deadly battle for cheap TVs and free waffle irons when some asshole in the crowd steals a megaphone and announces the store is open early. A year later, as the Winter Festival of Greed approaches, the tragedy hasn’t been forgotten. There are protests outside the store and someone is taking it a bit further. They’ve donned a mask of Plymouth’s first governor, ironically named John Carver, and are taking revenge on those they hold responsible for the carnage.
That includes the store owner Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman, Suits, Locker 13), the owner’s daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque, Big Shot, The Marijuana Conspiracy) and her friends who dodged the crowd and came in the employee entrance, Gabby (Addison Rae, He’s All That, Spy Cat), Yulia (Jenna Warren, Taken Too Far, Thomas & Friends: Ghost Train), Evan (Tomaso Sanelli, Dark Web: Cicada 3301, Titans), and Scuba (Gabriel Davenport, Mistletoe Time Machine, Don’t Sell my Baby) as well as others whose actions were caught on camera. That would be cameras on phones, as the security cameras apparently malfunctioned during the chaos.
Roth and writer Jeff Rendell had a pretty free hand in expanding their faux trailer from Grindhouse into a feature, and they start off on the right foot with what looks like the crowd scenes we see on the news every year taken one step further. And while one death, a man whose throat is cut on a piece of glass goes for the last waffle iron rather than help, is played as a grim jest, the others are played seriously and are effective.
It also lays out several suspects and some of Thanksgiving’s potential killers, including the former manager Mitch (Ty Olsson, War for the Planet of the Apes, Slasher) whose wife (Gina Gershon, Killer Joe, Tripping the Rift) was one of the victims. Or Jessica’s ex, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks, Walker. Animal Kingdom) who suffered an injury that ended a promising athletic career trying to rescue one of the victims. He vanished shortly after and, coincidently, has just returned to town. But whoever it is, Sheriff Newlon (Patrick Dempsey, Enchanted, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) always seems to be one step behind the killer.
In other words, Roth has set Thanksgiving up like a typical 80s slasher, only with a much bigger effects budget than most of them had and a willingness to go the unrated route like Nightmare and The Mutilator. The first two kills, an impressive but improbable death by dumpster and a decapitation, deliver more gore than any two other major studio horror films this year. The effects are practical and more than deliver the goods.
The attack on the Thanksgiving parade has been brought back from the trailer, and used to good effect both as a set piece and as the lead into the final act. The trampoline scene also makes a return, though altered to make it less likely to draw complaints, which ironically will probably draw complaints that he censored himself.
Overall it’s a mostly lightweight, fun, Roth only dips into Hostel territory once, slasher with familiar characters making familiar mistakes that lead to outrageously bloody deaths. He also does a great job of keeping the killer’s identity hidden, as well as giving them a plausible motive when it gets revealed. It’s not only the first of the director’s films I’ve liked, it’s a damn good slasher too. Isn’t it ironic, it’s Thanksgiving and Eli Roth doesn’t give us a turkey.
Thanksgiving is currently in theatres via Sony Pictures.