'Thanksgiving' review: Predictably gory but unpredictably nimble


By AGENCY

Hmm, I think the forks I bought for Thanksgiving dinner are a little too big. — Photos: Handout

Thanksgiving
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, Milo Manheim, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Nell Verlaque, Rick Hoffman, Gina Gershon

A generation ago, film director Eli Roth made Hostel: Part II, one of the most heinous things, never mind movies, on the planet – a film of lingering torture sequences, bad faith, worse misogyny and galling laziness.

Now Roth has made Thanksgiving, based on a mock trailer (two minutes, 19 seconds) he shot that same year in 2007, for the Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse. And get this: Thanksgiving works. It’s predictably gory but, at its best, unpredictably nimble.

In a career pockmarked by lows, Roth’s latest stands out as a zesty example of holiday stress in extremis.

Stop looking at your phone and look behind you!Stop looking at your phone and look behind you!

Screenwriter Jeff Rendell takes the original fake trailer as a reference point, not as a guidebook for feature-length expansion. The setup is terrific. At a locally owned Walmart-type big-box store, one Thanksgiving night in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Black Friday shoppers seethe and rage in the cold, desperate to get past the security guards.

Meantime the store owner’s daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque, a wide-eyed, easygoing presence) and her high school friends cavort inside, taunting the rabid customers on the other side of the glass.

The ensuing melee leaves at least three dead, and the escalating craziness of the opening sequence toggles between bloody black comedy and weirdly plausible thrills.

A year later, there’s a Thanksgiving killer on the loose, with an apparent grudge against Jessica and company. Screenwriter Rendell lays out a buffet of potential suspects, likely all residents of the tight-knit community unraveling a little more with every corpse.

Don't panic, everyone, Officer McDreamy is here to save the day.Don't panic, everyone, Officer McDreamy is here to save the day.

Patrick Dempsey is the kindly sheriff; Jalen Thomas Brooks and Milo Manheim trade dirty looks as Jessica’s competing, jealous romantic interests

The movie’s final third feels increasingly routine, by which time we’ve seen a lot of entrails and vivisections (one by dumpster lid).

But getting there, Roth manages a pace and a merrily sadistic vibe recalling the better Scream movies, as well as a worthy protagonist determined not to die.

So why only a middling star rating? I’d place Thanksgiving halfway between “fair” and “good.” Inevitably, Roth can’t keep his baser storytelling and filmmaking instincts at bay forever.

Now that's a great Ghostface impersonation.Now that's a great Ghostface impersonation.

The culminating sequence depicts the masked killer basting and roasting a female alive, and the movie dies, temporarily, along with the female.

It’s supposed to be grotesque, of course – the diseased doings of a diseased mind, which means anything goes. The Motion Picture Association’s hilariously forgiving definition of an R-rating means the same thing. Roth knows it. He owes his career to it.

What I didn’t know is that Roth even had two-thirds of a good, legit genre movie in him, though his breakout film Cabin Fever came close. We’ll see the Thanksgiving sequel either in 2024 or 2025, I’m sure. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

6 10

Summary:

Two-thirds of a good, legit horror movie.

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