'Thanksgiving' review: Eli Roth carves up an instant slasher classic
Courtesy of Sony
After nearly a decade away from the splatterfest genre that made him a household name, Eli Roth makes a bold return in his disgusting homage to ‘90s slashers in “Thanksgiving,” a shamelessly anti-capitalist blood soaked terror exercise which stands as quite possibly the filmmaker's greatest achievement. Or, at least, his most complete. Originally conceived with pal Jeff Randell as a tongue-and-cheek spoof trailer with 2007’s “Grindhouse,” Roth's "Thanksgiving” is now the third movie (after “Machete” and “Hobo with a Shotgun”) to get the full length treatment and it’s far and away the best of the lot.
“Thanksgiving” is equal parts “Thankskilling,” crossbred with “Scream” and a hint of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (the final scene in particular) and knows exactly the type of camp it's yearning for. But it’s better than the sum of those parts, especially when you compare it to the rest of Roth’s filmography. “Cabin Fever” was a stomach-churning delight, “Hostel,” for better or worse, took torture horror to grueling new highs, and “The Green Inferno,” was unapologetically trashy. I enjoyed those movies for what they tried to accomplish, but “Thanksgiving” feels like Roth has finally assembled the best bits of his previous movies and meshed it with a story filled with plenty of intrigue and mystery, including the final act that, against all odds, sticks the landing.
It all begins with a wild prologue in the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts where locals call the autumnal holiday “an institution.” Roth lays down a solid event for the movie to build around as we witness a mob of ruthless Black Friday shoppers descend upon a local department store and leave three people dead, countless others injured, and survivors riddled with trauma. Roth shoots the sequence with a relentless, in-your-face attitude that acts as a chilling metaphor on how corporate greed has stifled the true meaning of the holiday season. Cut to one year later, and the town is still feeling the aftershocks, none more so than Jessica (Nell Verlaque) who’s father, Thomas (a snarky Rick Hoffman) is the business tycoon responsible for the tragedy.
Some have tried to move on, while others, like Jessica’s friend Evan (Tomaso Sanelli), have profited off the bloodshed thanks to a viral series of YouTube and TikTok videos. It also puts them on the chopping block for a masked murderer who doesn’t shy away from creatively slicing someone in half and then making a “50% off” joke on Instagram. The ax wielding killer appropriately dons a John Carver mask, but it’s their sadistic ability at repurposing traditional Thanksgiving instruments into lethal weapons (you’ll never look at a corn on the cob skewer the same) that makes them more than just a Michael Myers knockoff.
Despite the best efforts from Jessica, her buddies (chief among them social media influencer Addison Rae) and the town’s plucky Sheriff (Maine native Patrick Dempsy who gets to sport a thick Bahston accent and play against his usual romantic interest archetype), the killer is slicing up locals at a breakneck speed and using their corpses to set the stage for the world’s most uninviting holiday dinner. The menu includes all the fixings, including decapitation, cannibalism, and disembowelment. Would you like gravy with that?
That gruesome finale, which features the film’s signature death, stands among the best in recent horror movie memory with Roth cheerily leaning into his “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” influences with a wink and a nod. Not to mention the tension and atmosphere the director cooks up yields several respectable jump scares rather than making the audience jolt for the sake of a cheap fake out. Instead, Roth is disciplined and calculated with his approach to the material, methodically peeling back the layers and elevating an otherwise sloppy B-movie into a new slasher classic (the guessing game of figuring out who is behind the mask does not disappoint).
I can’t wait to go back for seconds.
THANKSGIVING is now playing in theaters.