The following is a spoiler-free review*
Slasher films are a very niche subgenre of horror that if done correctly can solidify them in the horror hall of fame. Writer and director Eli Roth has imprinted himself in the horror community with his unique style of storytelling. His previous works include his first feature film Cabin Fever in 2002 with other works in horror including Hostel (2006) and The Green Inferno (2013). But his short, Thanksgiving that was a parody of a holiday slasher shown in 2007 in between the double feature of Grindhouse by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez had slasher fans itching for it to become a full-length film ever since they saw it. Now that day is here.
Thanksgiving takes that short concept and fleshes it out into what will be one of the best holiday horror films once the masses can feast their eyes on it this upcoming weekend when it releases in theaters November 16. Directed by Eli Roth with the story by Roth and Jeff Rendell (co-writer of the Thanksgiving short), and screenplay by Jeff Rendell, Thanksgiving takes viewers back to the birthplace of where the holiday began – Plymouth, Massachusetts. After a horrific Black Friday riot at the retail giant RightMart, a masked killer dressed as a pilgrim in a John Carver (the first governor of Plymouth, Massachusetts) cut out mask terrorizes the residents of the quiet Plymouth community picking off victims in what initially is thought to be random, but later revealed as part of a nefarious plan.
Hollywood veterans Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy), Gina Gershon (Red Oaks) and Rick Hoffman (Suits) star in Thanksgiving alongside Addison Rae (He’s All That), Milo Manheim (School Spirits), Jalen Thomas Brooks (Walker), Tomaso Sanelli (Holly Hobbie), Nell Verlaque (Big Shot), Karen Cliche (Saw VI), Jenna Warren (The Young Arsonists), and Gabriel Davenport (Hotel for the Holidays) who make up the ensemble cast.
As mentioned above, a Black Friday event that promises a free waffle iron to the first 100 customers is the catalyst for the entire trajectory of Thanksgiving. In an intensely paced and claustrophobically shot sequence, the event turns deadly featuring some of the most terrifying ways a situation like that could result in and sets up very early on that Thanksgiving is going to be a thrill ride from start to finish.
Marking off all the classic slasher movie tropes, this film has everything: a crazed mask killer driven by revenge, male rivalry between the golden boy and the boy from the wrong side of the track resulting in a love triangle over the deemed good girl, dark humor galore, a suspenseful whodunit, and the most outrageous and gruesome deaths you’ll see on screen. And if you’re worried you’ll be bombarded with jump scares, rest assure that Thanksgiving doesn’t lean into that aspect of horror, but instead leaves lasting images of body horror imprinted on your mind.
What sets Thanksgiving apart from other holiday themed horror films is that it’s truly the first of its kind with the specific theme. It uses every aspect of the holiday to its advantage from kitchen appliances and tools as murder weapons and the cleverest puns associated with food and the holiday you can imagine. The kills are a standout in the film as viewers anticipate how the next victim will be taken out leading up to a final dinner presentation that will make you never look at a turkey the same again.
The ensemble cast also shines best when they are all together. The highschoolers play well off one another as a believable group of friends in a modern society tied to social media with the killer using that to its advantage. Their performances aren’t award worthy but stay true to the camp vibe 80s and 90s slasher movies provided. Slasher and horror lovers in general will gobble Thanksgiving up as the film will soon become a staple for the holiday season every year with viewers left wanting a second, or third helping.
Thanksgiving premieres in theaters November 16, 2023.