This is a promise long overdue. I have fond memories of going out to watch Grindhouse with my college buddies on the big screen, and I weep for those who missed out when the Weinsteins chose to bury the picture. After fifteen long years of savoring the fake trailer included in the original Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, the Grindhouse faithful finally have the full-length Thanksgiving (2023) slasher from Eli Roth.
Granted, the film is distinctly modern, without any of the retro trappings iconic to Grindhouse. And the film is nowhere near as raunchy as the original trailer. (If you’re not familiar with Grindhouse or the original fake trailer, viewer caution for that link is HEAVILY advised.) That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, and it’s certainly better than nothing, it’s just not quite the movie it should’ve been.
We lay our scene in the sleepy Massachusetts town of Plymouth, where a big box store is open on Thanksgiving to make the most of those Black Friday dollars. To make a long and ugly story short, this particular Black Friday sale turns into a bona fide massacre, with a career-ending injury to a young potential baseball superstar (Bobby, played by Jalen Thomas Brooks) and at least two fatalities. Nobody was ever arrested for the bloodshed, all the lawsuits went nowhere, and the store’s wealthy owner (Thomas Wright, played by Rick Hoffman) spent a fortune in community service to repair his damaged brand.
Cut to a year later. Though Thomas has sworn to beef up security, he’s still opening the store on Thanksgiving for a massive Black Friday blowout like the first time wasn’t a terrible fatal mistake. Naturally, this decision has been met with no small measure of controversy and antipathy. And then people connected with the initial massacre start turning up brutally slain. Hilarity ensues.
Thanksgiving (2023) is my least favorite kind of film to review because it’s just okay. It doesn’t do much of anything new or memorable, but it doesn’t make any huge missteps either. We don’t get any particularly moving or intelligent themes, and we get jack-all in terms of genre subversion. It’s just a perfectly straightforward slasher flick that hits every expected plot reveal and turning point like clockwork. If you’ve ever seen any slasher flick, you’ll know exactly what happens and exactly when it happens, down to the second.
It certainly doesn’t help that nearly every character is a stereotype only barely thick enough to serve as a napkin. With the minor exceptions of our Final Girl (Jessica, capably played by Nell Verlaque) and the resident sheriff (played with all the charm of Patrick Dempsey), everyone in the whole damn town is pathetically stupid and unsympathetic. I could believe that literally anybody would be the killer or the next victim, they’ve all got so many reasons to kill each other.
The slasher is another point against the movie. Our slasher is supposedly dressed up like town founder John Carver, though he comes out looking like somebody wanted to cash in on V for Vendetta without paying WB any royalties. There’s nothing unique about his look or his methods or his weaponry, he’s just a stock slasher.
Except for that one scene with the cat, that was nicely charming.
That said, at least the film brings us some unique kills. There are some clever chase scenes, the gore is up to Eli Roth’s typical standard — though, again, not up to the standard of the fake trailer that started all of this — and the basic premise of murders themed around Thanksgiving is delivered in a suitably gut-churning way. There’s nothing here to redefine the genre or set this film apart in any meaningful way, but it’s enough to get the job done.
There are only so many more ways I can say this, but Thanksgiving (2023) is nothing more or less than adequate. It’s nothing extraordinary, nothing new, nothing awful, nothing offensive. It’s a slasher so straightforward that it could’ve been written by AI. Which is good enough on its own merit, perhaps, but it’s a disappointment to those who waited over fifteen years to get more of the same over-the-top ridiculous gore and tits teased in the original fake trailer. Then again, maybe 100 minutes of a grindhouse slasher horror on that level that might’ve been a “careful what you wish for” kind of situation.
The movie we actually got is worth seeing for the novelty of a Thanksgiving-themed slasher, but you won’t be missing anything if you wait for home video.