I was surprised when I saw that “comedy” was not listed as one of the genres ascribed to a film about a man dressed as a pilgrim and committing Thanksgiving-related murders. The whole concept just sounds so gimmicky; in fact, I’m pretty sure my exact words when I first saw the previews were, “This looks horrible. I have to see it.” As it turned out, many parts of this movie were in fact hilarious, and I found myself frequently laughing out loud… But not for the reasons I expected. I came to the film expecting a cheap and forgettable meal, only to find a delectable holiday feast that I thoroughly enjoyed.
In Thanksgiving, written and directed by Eli Roth (the producer of early-2000s horror films Cabin Fever and Hostel), an early Black Friday waffle iron sale turns tragic when a stampede at a Massachusetts department store called RightMART leaves several people dead. One year later, a man dressed as a Mayflower pilgrim named John Carver seeks out the ones who instigated the riot and cuts them down one by one. Instead of just being told that a tragedy happened last Black Friday or seeing glimpses of it in flashbacks, we get to witness the carnage and the moments leading up to it at the beginning of the film. Even without a murderer on the loose yet, this prologue, though comedic at times (re: waffle iron sale), is unsettling. I find Black Friday crowds to be nightmarish in and of themselves because of how violent and feral people can become over the prospect of saving money. The chaotic scene feels very, very real, and it doesn’t become clear that this is a horror movie until we see some trampled and bloody bodies.
From the synopsis alone, I thought the killer’s pilgrim disguise was just silly; however, there is actually a logical reason for this getup. Much like how the killers in the Scream franchise often take advantage of Ghostface’s popularity to blend in with the crowd, the killer in Thanksgiving is able to hide his identity because plenty of people around Plymouth dress up as pilgrims for the Thanksgiving parade and other festivities. Even his mask is a cheap commodity that we see being worn by background characters as they celebrate the holiday, since John Carver was Plymouth’s first governor. I expected to giggle every time he appeared on screen, but instead I was genuinely frightened.
I will say that something that bothered me throughout the entire duration of the movie is that one of the characters enters RightMART on the night of the Black Friday massacre because his phone is broken and he needs a new one, but he then proceeds to record the ensuing riot just moments later. There is no way he could have set up a new phone fast enough for it to be ready to take videos that quickly. There are also quite a few corny lines that are delivered with far too much seriousness, which really took the wind out of the scary sails. Besides these small inconsistencies and the occasional cringey dialogue, though, the story was coherent and kept me engaged from start to finish.
Okay, I know we aren’t supposed to root for the murderer, but I kind of loved “John Carver.” First of all, that name is so perfect that I could hardly believe it was actually the name of the real man who founded Plymouth Colony. I mean, come on: Carver? You carve a turkey on Thanksgiving, but also, a murderer might carve up their victims. Considering both this and the fact that the real John Carver was a pilgrim, he is the perfect icon for a Thanksgiving-themed slasher. Anyway, his MO was punishing people who got off scot-free after their greed caused unnecessary and avoidable deaths, and frankly, it sounds to me like he had the right idea even if he took it too far. Plus, we find out that the killer is an animal lover in a scene that is quite possibly my favorite moment in any horror movie ever. What can I say: I’m a sucker for a guy who’s good with cats.
The rest of the cast was… average. We don’t get a particularly witty or tough Final Girl, and the closest we come to a hero is a 30-something-year-old metalhead who sells alcohol and weapons to teenagers. The core friend group consists of your typical high school jocks and their pretty girlfriends with fairly two-dimensional personalities. It’s hard to feel sorry for the people that are being hunted down when they’re so belligerent and disrespectful, which only made me side with the villain even more. I did feel that some characters were far less deserving of their bloody fates than others, but I guess it’s probably a good thing that I don’t totally see eye-to-eye with a fictional serial killer.
The kills were probably the biggest highlight of the movie. There was rarely just one attack that took victims down: John Carver had several grisly abuses lined up for his targets before dealing the killing blow. The trailer led me to expect that all the murders would be Thanksgiving-themed (which admittedly would have been impressive from a creative standpoint but still undeniably cheesy); however, the nature of the first few kills had nothing to do with the holiday. The ones that were inspired by Thanksgiving had me laughing and flinching at the same time, because while ridiculous as a concept, they were utterly brutal to witness. Every kill was savage and gruesome, and inventive to boot. My jaw dropped, my stomach churned, I covered my mouth, I gasped, I shrieked… This is the type of physical reaction that all horror movies should cause.
I should have known that Spyglass Media Group, which brought us the two most recent installments of the Scream franchise, would be able to deliver a high-quality slasher film. I fully expected to be unimpressed by Thanksgiving, but I was VERY wrong. Even though it isn’t considered a comedy, many parts of the movie were genuinely funny without really trying to be, which made it fun and entertaining. But the film’s goal was horror, not humor, and it succeeded excellently. From jump scares to spilling guts, Thanksgiving doesn’t give you many opportunities to relax. This delicious holiday horror is an absolute must-see for all horror fans, and I anticipate that watching this movie every year will become just as essential to Thanksgiving as stuffing and cranberry sauce.