‘Thanksgiving’ Slices Into the Meat and Potatoes of Holiday Horror and Emerges as a Deliciously Gory Slasher
Back in 2007, the blood-splattered amalgamation Grindhouse incorporated a parody trailer from acclaimed horror auteur Eli Roth, showcasing a horrifying tale of gory trimmings centered around the final Thursday of November. Nearly two decades later, Roth has carved a sizable chunk and served it directly back into the long-standing genre with his latest horror venture, Thanksgiving.
Fleshing out its parody roots and shedding its skin of all prior impossibilities, the fresh-faced horror concept takes its time embracing the sheer intrigue of holiday horror as Roth, along with scriptwriter Jeff Randall, crafts an eerie extravaganza that begins with a pulse-pounding riot gone horribly wrong.
In its spine-tingling opening, we meet our main cast of high-schoolers — Jessica, Gabby, Evan, Ryan, Yulia, and Scuba — as well as adults Thomas Wright, Sheriff Eric Newlon, Kathleen, and Mitch. On Thanksgiving Day, superstore RightMart is hosting a waffle maker giveaway for the first 100 customers. Unsurprisingly, patrons gather around the barricades for the chance to get their hands on massive reductions.
However, tragedy strikes when the herd viciously and unapologetically stampedes into RightMart, assaulting one another like savages. We learn from the get-go that the teens are extremely selfish, as most teens are. This carelessness lends motive to multiple characters, so Roth manages to keep us guessing as to the culprit, maintaining suspense throughout in a masterful whodunnit extravaganza.
Patrick Dempsey, star of Grey’s Anatomy and currently the Sexiest Man Alive, is the most famous name on the cast list, and an obvious standout. As he ditches the scrubs he wore for 10 years and takes on the demanding role of Sheriff of Plymouth, he proves that even at the ripe age of 57, he hasn’t lost his touch.
Besides Dempsey, newcomer Nell Verlaque — who portrays Louise Gruzinsky on Disney Plus’ Big Shot — makes a lasting impression as someone without an ounce of experience in any horror project. Verlaque sells Jessica’s terror, uncertainty, and determination as she cycles through an array of emotions while the infamous John Carver lurks about. Dempsey and Verlaque’s chemistry as two polar-opposite characters is undoubtedly Roth’s secret weapon in making this Thanksgiving one to remember.
Moving on to the kills, each of which is orchestrated in a believable and creative fashion. Roth’s practical effects team needs a raise, especially as every gory departure has our toes curling and gag reflexes working overtime. Somehow, as is notoriously hard with gore, Roth doesn’t overdo it; there’s an artistry to practical effects in horror that isn’t celebrated enough, and Roth’s team more than earned their paychecks. None of the kills are repetitive, boring, or poorly executed (pardon the pun). But what really sets Thanksgiving apart from other slashers is its admirable tension-building; in particular, a keenly compelling chase sequence between John Carver and Karen Cliche’s Kathleen. It speaks volumes about John Carver’s character that they’re outsmarted, for the most part, by a 50-something stepmother, which adds an element of realism to Thanksgiving that most slashers lack.
John Carver is entirely human — and believably so — to the point that it’s a probable scenario for high schoolers to either overpower or incapacitate them, at least temporarily. By playing on the inevitabilities of human nature (such as making mistakes), Roth sets us a cat-and-mouse game worth following.
We can imagine Thanksgiving affecting the modern generation just like Scream did with ‘90s kids ⏤ and damn, we’re having a blast with this ride. While excessively over-the-top at times, it embraces an undeniable ridiculousness to craft the perfect blend of horror and comedy — a recipe that like-minded slashers seem to lack. This movie just feels major. At the very least, Thanksgiving is the slasher of the year — but if we’re being honest, it may be the most prominent in recent memory. Roth has expressed wanting to create Thanksgiving from the age of 12, which is extraordinarily telling. From the first kill, we see the life’s work of an unapologetic filmmaker whose passion and energy for this industry practically jumps at you through the screen.
Perhaps the biggest appeal of Thanksgiving is that it offers new twists in a well-rehearsed genre. Everyone knows the standard tropes of slashers, but rather than falling into that pit trap, Roth takes everything you think you know and turns it on its head. At the beginning of the movie, we get a brutal display of how greedy and selfish human beings can be, and in odd little ways, you can’t really blame the killer for killing. The killer isn’t all that bad, truthfully. At least they don’t dare to touch a hair on a hungry cat’s head. There’s much more motive to John Carver than there is Michael Myers, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the former with an extended universe of their very own in a decade or so. As the cherry on top, final girl Nell Verlaque delivers a great performance — certainly better than most newbies.
One could argue that Thanksgiving is a tad too formulaic, packed to the brim as it is with whodunnit slasher tropes, but Roth doesn’t play by those same rules ⏤ he makes his own. From the perspective of a die-hard horror fan, it certainly bears repeating that Roth has painstakingly specialized in blending the ever-lasting bizarre macabre, with an onslaught of gory affairs. At this point, it couldn’t be more obvious that he’s just having fun, with Thanksgiving unequivocally serving up a hearty dose of genuinely haunting visual effects, and slasher-inspired aesthetics that have made the director a household name.
With inventive kills that will have you squirming and laughing at the same time, top-notch acting, and beyond-thrilling set pieces, Thanksgiving will leave any slasher fan wanting seconds.
‘Thanksgiving’ is a definitive passion project built on satisfyingly gory visuals, compelling storytelling, and inventive kills that provide a holiday treat for die-hard slasher fans.
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