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NY Post
17 Feb 2024

NextImg:Stream It or Skip It: ‘Thanksgiving’ on Netflix, Eli Roth's holiday slaughterama

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Eli Roth

Thanksgiving (now on Netflix) finds slaughtermonger Eli Roth returning to his roots after making a documentary (2021’s Fin) and, shockingly, directing kiddie-movie IP (2018’s The House with a Clock in its Walls). Thanksgiving isn’t a new project for the sicko behind Cabin Fever and Hostel; it’s the third fake trailer from Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse project to become a full-length feature, after Rodriguez’s Machete and Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun. Roth’s original idea was to tell the story of a kid who became a psycho killer after his father slaughtered his beloved turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, but that turned into a mostly generic slasher plot where an ax murderer dressed like a pilgrim terrorizes high schoolers in a small town. Of course, plot isn’t what lures us to slasher movies – it’s the kills, baby, and if anyone can deliver in that department, it’s Roth, right? 

The Gist: It’s Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Mass., a town where Thanksgiving is everything. You know – Plymouth Rock and all that. A crowd forms in the parking lot of big-box store Right Mart. This year’s Black Friday blowout deal is a free waffle iron, and this unruly mob of frothing-idiot consumers is ready to trample yer ass to get one. We meet a handful of characters here, and even though one is played by Gina Gershon, the only one who’s remotely relevant is Jessica (Nell Verlaque). She’s our main protagonist, the teenage daughter of the rich doofus who owns Right Mart. She gets her friends into the store before the doors open, infuriating the mob. They smash through the fence and crash through the doors, and all the violence results in sliced jugulars and compound fractures and scalpings – and we haven’t even met the slasher-killer yet. Maybe the real killer here is… capitalism!

ONE YEAR LATER. The local diner is giving away plastic masks of OG pilgrim John Carver – apt name, I gotta say – as a promotion, and wouldn’t you know it, a maniac wearing one those masks and a big dumb hat with a big dumb buckle on it is separating some of the local residents from their guts and heads and suchlike. His first victim is a waitress, one of the Black Friday tramplers, who he gets wet then sticks to the inside of the walk-in freezer door causing her to rip part of her face and her fingerprints off, making it impossible for her to unlock her phone with facial recognition or even a simple swipe. Bummer! Who could the killer be? People who lost loved ones in last year’s Right Mart melee are pissed that the store is hosting another big sale, so what we’ve got here is a bunch of suspects and motives running willy-nilly around town like a turkey with its head chopped off. 

Jessica’s ex, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), is a potential suspect; he was a promising baseball pitcher whose arm was bent in all the wrong directions in the Right Mart stampede. Her new boyfriend Ryan (Milo Manheim) is just enough of a jerk to make us wonder if he’s capable of concocting highly entertaining ways to murder people. The local sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) is on the case. Meanwhile, all of Jessica’s friends are tagged on social media by the killer, who posts a photo of a Thanksgiving dinner table under the name Real John Carver. “Don’t slide into the killer’s DMs,” one of the generic teenagers says, which sounds like decent advice. And so our homicidal quasi-founding-father starts picking off Jessica’s friends and other locals, and updating his feed with grisly pics of heads on dinner plates, stuff like that. Who could the killer be? More importantly, who will the movie make us think the killer is before we learn that it’s actually someone else? Because that’s how all these movies inevitably go.

Photo: IMDb

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Roth’s intent is to emulate holiday-themed movies from the Golden Era of Slasher Flicks, e.g., Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, etc. But Thanksgiving is ultimately a more graphically violent riff on cheeky post-Scream dead teenager movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer or, um, Urban Legend? Yeah, sure, Urban Legend.

Performance Worth Watching: Scouring the cast list… let’s see… who did anything memorable here… um… I guess Amanda Barker steals a scene or two as the waitress who also happens to be one of the more belligerent, bug-eyed Right Mart rioters. 

Memorable Dialogue: The killer delivers this beaut: “This year, there will be no leftovers!”

Sex and Skin: A brief shot of girlbutt.

Our Take: Thanksgiving opens with a litany of heavily dated Black Friday jokes – gags about Wal Mart riots are soooooooo pre-pandemic – spiced with amusingly flinchworthy Roth-trademark up-close in-your-face nothing-left-to-the-imagination instances of grisly gore. We don’t really get many gruesomely well-lit, practical-FX kills like that in the current horror landscape, and Roth bastes them with big, coagulant dollops of deranged humor. And he keeps it up, delivering nasty kill after nasty kill after nasty kill, all strung together by a terminally who-gives-a-shit plot. But really, who gives a shit if the plot is as dull as an antique carving knife? Roth’s villain successfully weaponizes a pair of corn holders and makes highly effective use of a table saw, and for you bloothirsters out there, that’ll be enough to fill your horn o’ plenty.

Those of us with higher standards for horror might not be fully satiated, though. The script could use a few more zippy one-liners, the midsection drags, the killer looks like a Scooby-Doo villain and Roth doesn’t execute the main gag in the climax as effectively as he could. I’m left with the assertion that Roth’s reputation exceeds his actual skills as a filmmaker. He can deliver a fiendishly funny kill, but he seems less interested in efficient storytelling, creating suspense or anything resembling meaningful character development. Sure, Thanksgiving sets ’em up and knocks ’em down with vivacious glee, but the end result is only a notch above boilerplate genre fare. Anyone expecting Grandma’s killer homemade stuffing will have to be content with Stove Top.

Our Call: There’s enough nasty comedy in Roth’s crazed kills to make Thanksgiving worth a watch. STREAM IT,

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.