What do you want out of a good slasher movie? Do you want to be entertained, thrilled, or horrified? If the answer to that question is yes, then don’t fret, there is a movie for you. Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth (Hostel), is everything that you’d want out of a good slasher movie, mixed in with some great on-the-nose comedic performances. The film is loosely based on Roth’s trailer for the fake Thanksgiving that was included in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse.
It’s a slasher movie – mixed in with some body horror – that revolves around a serial killer who wears a goofy mask representative of the pilgrim John Carver. One year after a stampede resulted in fatalities at a local superstore, the Thanksgiving killer hunts down anyone who was involved with the incident. It stars Nell Verlaque (Big Shot) as the lead, a teen named Jessica who is part of the group being hunted. Her father, played by Rick Hoffman (Suits), owns the store where the incident took place, which is how she let her friends into the store early, inciting the riot.
The Humor in the Horror
The biggest reason Thanksgiving succeeds is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sure, it might have the grizzliest deaths of any movie released this year, but it doesn’t scrimp on the comedy. The dialogue is filled with puns, there are plenty of visual gags and the Massachusetts accents make even the most basic line worth a chuckle. Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy) plays the Sheriff investigating the killer, Sheriff Newton. His accent is easily the funniest, and his performance is the best. He might be the best officer in a slasher movie since David Arquette’s Dewey Riley in Scream.
The two things that Thanksgiving gets right are the comedy and the horror. Almost every kill in the movie made me cringe or shriek. Whether it was watching a person lose their insides or looking away while their skin was rended from their body, the gruesome details in the unique kills were perfect. Every kill has something to do with the holiday, like someone being stabbed with a carving knife or being impaled by corn cob holders. Again, this served the comedy, but it would be easy to understate how well these kills keep Thanksgiving engaging. The kills aren’t simple stabbings, they’re brilliantly creative.
The sound design and the visual effects need to be applauded as well. Most of the visual effects are over the top, but combined with the sound design whenever flesh is cut or peeled, it made my skin crawl. The best example of the movie taking “it’s so bad it’s good” to the extreme is in its editing. Whenever you’re expecting a hard cut to another scene, you’ll be forced to wait an extra two seconds. So many of those hard cuts were either to or from a visual gag as well.
Most of the acting in the film is mediocre, but the movie calls for it. If the characters were more earnest, Thanksgiving wouldn’t work as well as it does. With that being said, Verlaque makes a fine final girl, and Gabriel Davenport (Hotel for the Holidays) who plays Scuba, has great comedic timing. Tomaso Sanelli (Titans) plays the incredibly dim jock Evan, while Addison Rae (He’s All That) plays Gabby, two of Jessica’s friends. Thanksgiving’s story is fairly grounded if not a little predictable. There are side plots that go nowhere, as you’d expect from your average slasher movie.
The film is incredibly American. From the Black Friday swarm to the concept of Thanksgiving as a holiday, it plays on stereotypes well. Of course, all the stereotypes are used either to incite horror or to induce laughter. Because of this, it should play as well to international audiences as it would to American audiences. Thanksgiving also had some weird moments, but nothing was too disruptive to the flow of the movie. It has great pacing, and with a 106-minute runtime, doesn’t outstay its welcome. Although, the ending could have been better. In saying that, I was still laughing when the credits popped up.
Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, one of the best horror movies of 2023, and horror fans will be missing out if they don’t see this in the most atmospheric theater possible. It would also make for a good date movie, just make sure you go out for dinner after the movie, rather than before, if you have a weak stomach! You can catch Thanksgiving in theaters from November 17, 2023.