New Horror Film Captures Modern Reality Of The Holiday


(REVIEW) There’s a picture-perfect version of Thanksgiving that exists in cartoons and TV shows of overflowing cornucopias and naively cheerful turkeys.

It’s meant to celebrate a bountiful harvest, a good meal and time together with loved ones. The first Thanksgiving, celebrated in 1621 by Pilgrims and Native Americans, was long-heralded as a celebration of unity and abundance. 

Though it isn’t celebrated specifically as a religious holiday, the Pilgrims are often represented as pious and brave Christians who paved the way for religious freedom in America; the virtues of gratitude and peace are lauded as Christian values. 

READ: How You Can Help Support Religion Unplugged

The real Thanksgiving is a lot more complicated — and unpleasant. A new holiday slasher flick, “Thanksgiving,” in many ways addresses the holiday’s contradictions and its negative reputation. 

This time of year is supposed to be about togetherness, but for many it feels like being forced to sit around the table with unpleasant family members who disagree on religion, politics and the way the pumpkin pie was made.

The depiction of joy and harmony between Pilgrims and Native Americans views the colonization of America with rose-colored glasses, neglecting the bloodshed inflicted on Indigenous people by American settlers. 

Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving known for big sales and an influx of shopping — has always meant that retail workers don’t have an extended, relaxing holiday. That’s even more true as many stores open with big sales on Thanksgiving Day. 

It’s here, in fact, that the movie starts. A department store in Plymouth — the site of the first Thanksgiving — is opening its doors on Thursday, and hundreds of people are in attendance. Fervor builds, and a riot begins, resulting in three gruesome deaths: a security guard is trampled, a shopper has his neck slit by a shard of broken glass and the wife of a worker is scalped by a shopping cart. 

It resumes a year after the incident, as a lone killer dressed as John Carver — the first governor of the Plymouth Colony who’s known for writing the Mayflower Compact — begins to target those he believes are responsible for the riot. 

That includes the security guard who left before the violence began, one particularly demanding shopper, the store’s owner, his wife, his daughter and her friends. 

This spree culminates in a twisted murder tableau set around (and on) the dinner table, the killer’s proceedings broadcast on an Instagram live, then a reckless chase and a showdown that involves a giant inflatable turkey.

The killer’s motives are ultimately personal, but this underlying intent is itself a critique of the close relationship between consumerism and a holiday meant to exemplify the opposite. 

The movie is particularly gory, suitable for a slasher film and exemplary for its dedication to the holiday theme. The killer uses corn skewers, a knife attached to a hand mixer and a large oven, all very festive and individually horrifying. 

It’s details like these that make the movie a fun, campy flick and a worthwhile watch. It’s outlandish enough to be hilarious and suspenseful enough that it maintains intrigue. It has all the makings of a cult classic. 

Part of that is its hyerspecific portrayal of a modern Thanksgiving, which involves social media, consumerism, violence and the interplay of those things. It admittedly executes these themes imperfectly, sticking to shallow exploration instead of thoughtful cultural commentary. This is disappointing because the movie is so close to being a sharp critique — but its clear priority is to be a fun, gory slasher. It certainly fills that role well, even if the message falls short.

It’s even slightly outdated by this year’s standards; most stores are remaining closed on Thursday and Black Friday deals have shifted to align with online shopping habits.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth paying attention to beyond its potential as an amusing horror movie. It’s relevant just by being a holiday parody movie that contradicts an otherwise cheerful or wholesome spirit (increasingly common with Christmas movies in thriller and horror genres). A parody, especially of deeply-rooted religious and cultural traditions, will always have something to say.

“Thanksgiving” defies the sanctity of a holiday that’s rooted in Christian tradition, poking fun at family dinner, good food, American pastimes and generally all other warm and fuzzy feelings that could possibly be associated with the day. 

In doing so, it depicts just how violent Thanksgiving has become — or reveals how violent it’s always been. 

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