If all you wanted for Christmas was a smarter “Black Christmas,” you are in luck. The director Sophia Takal, who wrote the screenplay with the film critic April Wolfe, has taken the 1974 Canadian sorority slasher standard — remade once before, in 2006 — and run with it, emerging with a movie significantly different in style and tone from its source. This “Black Christmas” speaks to an era of campus curriculum debates and a national reckoning over the reporting of sexual assault. (Takal says she drew inspiration from the Kavanaugh hearings.) Instead of prank phone calls, it has strangers sliding into your direct messages.
The bustle of activity mitigates a central implausibility of earlier versions, whose characters seemed slow to notice the missing women. The sorority’s sisters are preparing for a talent show at which they plan to call out a graduated frat boy who raped the heroine, Riley (Imogen Poots), and escaped punishment. (This time, the police’s hand-waving of complaints is not portrayed as funny.) Kris (Aleyse Shannon) is circulating a petition against a plummy professor (Cary Elwes) who favors white male authors.
Some of the new ideas are silly. Bows and arrows are tough to make look scary onscreen, and a supernatural element — the college’s founder dabbled in the dark arts — undermines the movie’s grounding in the here and now.
But if the 2019 “Black Christmas” is not nearly as chilling as the original, it is genuinely barbed as gender satire, and it cleverly pre-empts obvious outrage. Horrified men may consider that its assessment is no more damning than that of “The Stepford Wives,” a male creation. They might also ponder that they are now forced to answer for self-appointed defenders of the “masculine spirit” like the Canadian academic Jordan Peterson, at whose worldview this “Black Christmas” takes implicit aim.
Rated PG-13. Less gore than expected. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes.