Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Thanksgiving ★★★★★



Directed: Eli Roth

Cast: Gina Gershon, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hoffman, Milo Manheim, Addison Rae, Jalen Brooks Thomas, Nell Verlaque

Released: 17th November 2023

Eli Roth’s oeuvre, while never a favourite among non-genre critics, was the staple of horror cinema in the 2000s. Between the politically combative satire of the Hostel duology and the largely misunderstood commentary on social media activism in The Green Inferno (2013), Quentin Tarantino’s horror-obsessed friend rose to fame with films that tackled the terrors of late-stage capitalism amidst the turbulent sociopolitical climate of the early 21st century. Among those works was a small-scale horror experiment, fittingly titled Thanksgiving: a faux-trailer for the Grindhouse (2007) experience, designed to emulate the grimy 16mm style of 80s holiday-themed slasher films. It was deliciously gory and shockingly funny, headlined by the ominous killer in a pilgrim outfit who’s now evolved into a full-blown horror icon. At last, Eli Roth’s childhood dream is complete with this year’s feature-length Thanksgiving: a major satirical genre work that hearkens back to the days of relentlessly brutal, uncompromisingly combative slasher cinema.

The full-fledged Thanksgiving expands upon the concept established in the short film, incorporating the aspect of Western consumerism into the mix: the film opens on the holiday itself, just as the Wright family is hosting the Thanksgiving dinner at their opulent house in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The scummy head of the house, Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman), is the owner of the local RightMart store (Roth isn’t leaving much to the imagination here), whose wife gets the bright idea to start the Black Friday sale a day early, forcing the employees to work the holiday. Naturally, the place ends up being understaffed and draws only two external security hires as the crowds begin piling up in front of the store fence to get their “free waffle iron for the first 100 customers”. This decision proves fatal, as the sale escalates into a full-blown riot, leaving multiple people dead and many more injured.

A year has passed, and the town seems to have gotten back to its usual coastal American roots. Neon-lit diners straight out of the Reagan era are working business as usual, the local sheriff is breaking traffic laws while flipping off fellow drivers, and the RightMart tragedy is swept under the rug through performative charity donations. Aside from the few protesters who lost their loved ones in that act of senseless violence, it looks like the townsfolk chose to conveniently forget the dangers of neoliberal exploitation and are gearing up for yet another Black Friday sale. Fortunately, there’s still one more person who won’t stand for shady capitalist practices: a serial killer wearing the John Carver mask who will not stop until everyone complicit in the tragedy is put to rest.

Is Eli Roth the only genre filmmaker who remembers the age of sleazeball slashers? He very well might be, as Thanksgiving is the first slasher film this side of the indie Terrifier trilogy that delivers on the promise of a cheeky gorefest (feast?). Armed with encyclopedic genre knowledge and apt tonal management, Roth masterfully balances fetishistically gratuitous gore gags and potent jabs at America’s obsession with materialism. Believe it or not, this is Roth at his most restrained – perhaps, even to a fault – dialling back the fratboy humour of Cabin Fever or the gross-out comedy of The Green Inferno. At times, that does render the film a more “multiplex-friendly” Eli Roth feature – but then he unveils the centrepiece of the table, a stuffed turkey made of human meat, and that’s when you realize the Eli Roth of the 2000s never left the scene.

Despite the urge to compare Thanksgiving to Scream or the plethora of meta-slashers that followed, Roth and screenwriter Jeff Rendell aren’t exactly enamoured with the idea of an obnoxiously self-aware genre film. This one is a throwback in the best sense of the word: a deceptively straightforward splatter flick full of doughnut-munching policemen and horny teenagers who meet their untimely demise in the most horrific ways imaginable. The kills here are as creative as anything found in the Hostel films, seasoned with a hefty pinch of irony and pitch-black humour. Roth has always had a knack for dark visual comedy, and few scenes this year could rival the cut to a crime scene investigator carefully examining a sausage-like prosthetic intestine.

As the killer of the film facetiously proclaims, “No one appreciates subtlety anymore”, one may remember that Roth has always championed such a blunt approach when it comes to the militant social commentary of his films. In contrast with the trauma horror trend of today, Roth’s brand of confrontational genre cinema is decidedly old-fashioned – the kind of horror satire you’d only find in the video nasties of yesteryear. Roth frequently cited Pieces (1982) and Blood Sucking Freaks (1976) as the splatter flicks that inspired the Hostel series, and the same influences can be seen on display here. Once again, the dichotomy between Western culture and Eastern Europe comes into play as Roth plays a gag at the expense of a Russian expat family hastily getting ready to leave for Florida once the carnage begins. It’s these tiny absurdities, the moments of self-serious satirical comedy amidst extreme bloodshed, that showcase Roth’s acute understanding of genre cinema.

Easily Eli Roth’s most accomplished genre work since the criminally underrated Knock Knock and arguably the best horror film of the year, Thanksgiving is an absolute treat for any genre film enthusiast. The gleeful holiday massacre is the perfect playground for the filmmaker, whose body of work has always questioned modern American folklore and the all-consuming nature of neoliberal capitalism. In many ways, it feels like Roth’s career has been building up to this: a wildly acidic, truculent slasher film that will leave you squirming in your seat and questioning whether you’re actually thankful for those Black Friday deals.

Just For You