‘Black Christmas’ makes a bleak Christmas for all of us

Alix Salzer

The holiday season in California brings a variety of connotations. Drinking warm cider, smelling sickly sweet themed candles or cozying up in a big sweater all come to mind, but we never seem to have the classic white Christmas. However, this year Californians, along with many others across the world, got to experience a different kind of celebration with the movie “Black Christmas,” which was released Dec. 13. The Friday the 13th premiere was no accident, as the movie is not just a celebration of the holidays, but also a slasher remake of the 1974 “Black Christmas” movie where the infamous date engaged the darker side of the holidays.

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Unbeknownst of what’s to come, Riley (Imogen Poots)looks forward to the holiday season.

The 2019 version, written by Sophia Takal and April Wolfe and directed by Takal, follows Riley (Imogen Poots) and her sorority sisters, Marty (Lily Donoghue), Oona (Zoё Robins), Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) and Helena (Madeleine Adams), around Hawthorne College where they stay over the winter break. The girls are established from the start as outspoken for women’s rights and continue to prove it when they sing a parody of “Up on the Housetop” at a frat party that calls the boys out for their notoriously high sexual assault rates. Soon after this stunt, the girls begin to receive cryptic messages on the app YipYap that allude to a future assault. At the same time this is happening, Riley begins to notice that many of the girls in the sorority house have gone missing and goes to the campus security for help. The male campus security brushes off Riley and calls her hysterical, which acts as a reference to the lack of support for women’s issues and how they are often not taken seriously due to negative stereotypes. This is a fatal mistake on the part of the security when hooded figures enter the sorority house and hunt the occupants down as seen in the trailer.

While this topic had potential, the execution of the movie itself was poorly done. The opening scene pans in on boys in hooded cloaks, chanting in a cult-like scene. The image fades into flames and screams which work well to establish the horror genre but left me with the first impression (one upheld throughout the movie) that it was going to be cheesy and cliché

The problems with this movie extend far beyond just the opening scene. The movie focuses mainly on rape culture and the societal norms that allow it to persist. While this emphasis was a good message, the way it fixates on the same situations over and over again became repetitive and made the first part of the movie move slowly.

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Arming herself with a makeshift weapon, Riley hides from the hooded intruder in her sorority house.

Adding to the stereotypes, the antagonists in the movie are all white males. In fact, every time a scene came up that was criticizing women, it was only the white college boys doing so. According to a 2014 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this is the majority demographic for sexual assaults, but the ratio was not representative of the actual percentage (63 percent). This constant vilification of the white college boys without a deeper analysis of the behavior made the movie feel underdeveloped and took away from a topic that is already lacking in media coverage. 

Moreover, the movie seemed to include minority characters just to claim that they had them. One of the characters made comments that suggested they were part of the LGBTQ+ community, but it was never confirmed or mentioned again. Then again, in a conversation between Fran (Nathalie Morris) and Riley, Fran says “Merry Christmas, from this Jew to you,” but her religion is never brought up again other than having a menorah in the background of one other scene. 

While representation is appreciated, not dedicating screen time to develop these backgrounds or mention other parts of the culture and communities had me wondering why they were even mentioned in the first place. These actions made it seem that the inclusion was just for the movie to claim a level of intersectionality that it clearly did not have.

My final grievance with the movie was that it simply wasn’t scary. While the underlying message of rape-culture is an alarming thought, it made me more frustrated than scared, and the movie seemed to rely on jump-scares for the main fright-factor. Overall, this led the movie to be no scarier than a forgotten toaster or a missed step on the stairs. Those looking for a more hardcore holiday horror might be better off watching “Krampus” or even “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which at least utilizes unsettling components to chill the audience.

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Trying to hide from their attacker, Oona and Riley work together to survive the night.

All that being said, I do believe the main message the movie was trying to get across is important. According to The Guardian, men in fraternities are three times more likely to commit a rape, and college women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to experience rape than other college women. Even with these dramatic rates, the odds that these perpetrators are brought to justice is staggeringly low. “Black Christmas” is taking one of the first steps forward to acknowledge the assaults in the Greek system and call it out to a larger audience. 

While working to empower women without taking away from their femininity, the movie didn’t shy away from mentioning tampons or diva cups. More importantly, it featured women as the heroes who saved both each other and the men, instead of the other way around. 

Overall, the movie was not worth the 13 dollars or the glamor of the big screen that comes with the theatre experience. However, if any fed-up feminists want to watch the movie for its political commentary or just want to see a movie that actually passes the Bechdel test (which measures female representation in works of fiction), I would recommend looking for “Black Christmas” when it comes out for personal viewing in mid-Feb. to early March.