Thanksgiving (2023)

Rating: C+

Dir: Eli Roth
Star: Nell Verlaque, Milo Manheim, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Patrick Dempsey

It only took sixteen years after the concept first appeared as one of the faux trailers in Grindhouse. But Eli Roth finally becomes the third such trailer to be turned into a proper feature, after Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun. Truth be told, it’s probably the least of them. It still makes for a reasonable time. But while the others did a good job of capturing the spirit of their coming attractions, this feels more like a watered-down version of it. Case in point: both have a cheerleader on a trampoline (top), coming into contact with the business end of a Psycho knife. But the specifics were considerably more grisly in the trailer than here, even if only implied. 

It takes place in the New England town of Plymouth, where a stampede at a local store owned by a local family, leads to multiple deaths and injuries. A year later, someone wearing a Pilgrim mask starts to make those responsible pay for their actions, from the security guard who bailed, through the more brutal customers, to Jessica (Verlaque), daughter of the owner. Her boyfriend at the time, Bobby (Brooks), was hurt and vanished, but has now returned, to the annoyance of current boyfriend Ryan (Manheim). Their relationship issues have to take a backseat to mere survival, as the pissed-off Pilgrim continues to serve up justice, slicing up his victims like so much honeybaked ham. You know he’s coming back for more…

OK, enough with the food-related puns. While the trailer was very much an eighties, video-nasty styled throwback, this is more along the lines of post-modern, nineties horror like Scream. I’m no fan of that subgenre: I feel horror needs to be instinctual rather than intellectual and self-aware. It may be why I’m similarly unimpressed with “elevated horror”, though for slightly different reasons. At least this can’t be accused of being pretentious, and Roth’s affection for his genre helps paper over the basic familiarity of characters, situation and execution. The casting is similarly a mixed bag. Good to see Gina Gershon again, and Verlaque makes for an appealing final girl. But when you cast a TikTok influencer in a significant role… Yeah, you get what you deserve. 

The kills are decent to decent-plus. The apparent lack of CGI is pleasing, and I can now cross “death by bowsprit” off the list. The best element may be the dry humour, such as the killer pausing to feed the cat belonging to one of his victims. Or local gun nut McCarty, whose bedroom is a well-concealed armoury, with his main source of income, selling booze to local kids. Yet, weirdly, he’s depicted sympathetically. But it all feels too squeaky clean, and I wish it had instead retained the grubby, grim approach of the trailer. Despite Roth’s comments, this doesn’t feel like “the far end of the hard-R spectrum” at all. Perhaps Project Wolf Hunting broke my scale for such things [review of that next weekend: hoo-boy]. Guess I’ll just keep hoping we eventually get Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S.