Back in 2007, Eli Roth’s faux trailer for “Thanksgiving” debuted to the world courtesy of Grindhouse. Depicting a “lost” 80s slasher set on Turkey Day, the absurd short instantly had us horror fans clamoring for Roth to adapt it into a full feature. Over a decade later, that dream has finally come true, with Thanksgiving arriving on the theatrical table this weekend. And let me tell you, this is one entertaining slasher film guaranteed to carve a smile on your face.
Written by Roth and longtime friend Jeff Rendell, Thanksgiving sets its sights on the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. During a tragic night, Jess and her friends accidentally cause a stampede when she lets them into her father’s (Rick Hoffman) store to get a head start on some deals. One year later, Jess’ dad is determined to do another Black Friday sale and put the tragedy behind them. Someone in town isn’t too thrilled about the idea though, deciding to dress up as the town’s founder, John Carver, and get bloody revenge on all of those responsible for the event that left multiple people dead. This year, there will be no leftovers.
A film that Roth and Rendell have wanted to make since they were kids growing up near Plymouth, Thanksgiving is stuffed with the passion of the filmmakers and sets the table with all of the goods slasher fans could possibly ask for. A hearty mashed potatoes and gravy revenge plot. Spoonful’s of cranberry sauce gore. Meaty turkey day atmospherics. And a slice of satisfying pumpkin pie silliness. You can tell the pair have been developing this film for a long time, their ideas basting in the oven for decades and served on screen with a delectable juiciness. Just don’t expect what we saw in the Grindhouse trailer if you’re hoping for exactly that. While the short felt like more of an 80s exploitation film, this has the sensibilities of an early aughts slasher in the vein of My Blood Valentine (2009) or Black Christmas (2006). Sharp, absurdly funny, and gruesome as hell.
Thanksgiving is Roth at his most understanding of his audience. Meaning you have to be prepared for a film indulgent in nasty kills and farcical humor that’ll leave normies at the back of the bloody parade. Those who appreciate Roth’s over the top sense of comedy will be delighted, as this is his funniest movie to date. Thanksgiving is clucking nuts (sorry not sorry). There’s a heightened sense of reality all throughout that you’re either into or not, from the crazed mob in the opening to a splattering of cheer-worthy kills that gorehounds will gobble up. The director’s boyish sense of humor is present here as in his other work, but with a better sense of timing and when to pull back than I’ve seen from him before. Thanksgiving consistently walks up to the line of “too much”, only crossing it at the most opportune of moments on its way to maintaining a perfect golden brown combination of grotesque horror and gut-busting humor.
Like any Thanksgiving dinner, not every dish is up to par—I’ve always hated stuffing myself—and in this case, it’s the shallow premise and characters that don’t seem fully cooked. There isn’t a whole lot to chew on as far as the lore of John Carver (he’s based on a real guy who founded the town and that’s about all we know). And while the whole cast does their best with what they’re given—I cannot stress enough how fun it is to see a bunch of trash-talking Massachusetts kids in a slasher—there’s not a lot of meat on the bones of their characters. Jessica is more or less your average, kind of boring Final Girl traumatized by the past and caught in a fight between current boyfriend, Ryan (Milo Manheim) and ex, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks). We understand these kids on a surface level, but we don’t really get to know them, making me thankful that they’re at least funny. Awkward plot mechanics like Sheriff Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) brining in Jess to identify everyone at her father’s store that night come off as forced or unnatural, causing the film to sag here and there in-between kills (all of which are either thrilling or hilarious or both). Consider this your basic slasher script, but with inventive deaths and gags that keep the energy flowing.
I don’t know if this is Roth’s best film, but I’m more than comfortable in saying it’s his most entertaining. Flaws aside, Thanksgiving is a feast of grotesque horror that makes you cringe as much as laugh. With so few legitimately good genre titles set around the holiday, Thanksgiving is destined to become a holiday horror classic and a yearly watch for us sickos who enjoy a side of blood with our comedy. Those of you that have been waiting for this film since 2007 or are just craving a sleek, goofy slasher movie with a good helping of practical effects, put on your bibs. You’re about to eat.
Thanksgiving arrives in theaters November 17th from Sony Pictures.
By Matt Konopka