“One person. One life. Can change everything.”
We might sometimes feel insignificant. Worthless. As if things would be better off without us. Especially around the holidays. But from one post-Halloween blues sufferer to another, that’s never the case, as time-travelling protagonist Winnie (Jane Widdop) learns in high-concept Christmas horror comedy, It’s a Wonderful Knife, the latest twist on slasher conventions from Tragedy Girls director Tyler MacIntyre and Freaky writer Michael Kennedy.
In It’s a Wonderful Knife, we’re dropped on the doorstep of Christmas Eve in Angel Falls, a Whoville-esque mountain town brimming with holiday cheer. But when a killer dressed as the town’s Angel mascot murder’s someone close to teenager Winnie before meeting their end at her own hands, the once happy girl’s life is left in shambles. One year later, she’s traumatized by what happened. She’s just been rejected by her college of choice. And no one seems to understand or care what she’s going through. In a be careful what you wish for moment, she wishes she had never existed, suddenly finding herself in an Angel Falls that has no idea who she is. Worse, the Angel has continued to kill without Winnie’s intervention. Now, she must figure out how to get home and stop the killer hot on her tail before time runs out.
Playing like a delightfully queer It’s a Wonderful Life meets Scream by way of the Hallmark channel, there’s a warm vibe to this snow-swept tale that could melt the heart of Jack Frost (the killer one from 1997, not the Michael Keaton snowman). All through the first act, the town of Angel Falls is one that’s colorful and bright, with MacIntyre and cinematographer Nicholas Piatnik injecting that classic made-for-TV soft glow reminiscent of a calm night by the fire with hot cocoa and family. Outside of rich d-bag Henry Waters (Justin Long) attempting to buy up family business-owned property so he can build his corporate vision of a mega-mall, Waters Cove, things aren’t too bad in Angel Falls. It’s a nice place. Cozy. With a look and feel like any other holiday movie.
Until it isn’t.
Like the James Stewart film which the title is based on, It’s a Wonderful Knife stabs into that jolly holiday spirit and twists the blade, transforming a cheery atmosphere into grim misery. Once Winnie finds herself in an alternate reality where no one knows her, she quickly realizes how much she mattered. Everything is worse, from Henry achieving his dream of corporate dominance, to the Angel taking up their knife every few weeks to kill, to her brother, Jimmy (Aiden Howard) becoming one of those victims. Even all of the color—except the piercing red of blood—has vanished from the scenery, replaced with a soulless grey. Only outcast Bernie (Jess McLeod)—so un-liked the school has nicknamed her “Weirdo”—is willing to help Winnie.
Both MacIntyre and Kennedy tend to traffic in snappy slasher movies that put a new spin on the genre, and in some ways, the qualities each brings shine through. It’s a Wonderful Knife breaks quite a few rules, revealing the killer early on instead of at the end, to name one. A fresh concept, yet one that drastically lowers the intrigue of a mask-wearing killer. A stocking full of clever nods to other holiday films work to ease up the otherwise depressing nature of Winnie’s situation with a few light laughs. And the main cast are all wonderfully engaging, with Justin Long absolutely devouring the scenery as a spray-tanned Grinch of a man, while McLeod embodies the heart of the film with such a reserved charm that you can’t help but adore her. Underneath almost every scene flows such a syrupy sweetness between Winnie and Bernie as they grow closer that in many ways, this tale is a much more effective holiday movie than it is a slasher.
Not that the horror elements aren’t present. It’s a Wonderful Knife takes heavy inspiration from Scream—even tossing in some choice bits of dialogue from Craven’s franchise—particularly evident in the film’s villain, the Angel. The character looks like an all-white version of Ghostface—perhaps a callback to the original costume design for the character?—embracing the same viciousness, as well. The Angel is about as stab-happy of a slasher villain as you’ll find. The problem is, we just don’t see enough of that. MacIntyre’s latest is never as gory or creative in the kill-department as the slashers it homages. But the nastiness of the Angel does do a great job of conveying one of the main themes here, which is how constant violence can make us numb. In Winnie’s alternate reality, the Angel has been killing for a year. The town has been left hopeless. Empty. An uncomfortable message wrapped in blood-soaked wrapping paper, the film acts as a commentary on violence in society, with a focus on the idea that every life matters in such a way that’s sure to inspire a few tears. I know I cried.
Despite a strong theme and a relentless killer though, It’s a Wonderful Knife struggles to hit the next gear as a thrilling slasher due to tension-less chase scenes and an absence of legitimate scares. Character goals hop around in a script that can’t quite stay focused, merging into a head-scratching finale that goes full storybook mode and feels as if a few pieces are missing. Flaws aside, it can’t be overlooked how much of a gift this film is in essence. A fun, thoughtful, queer as all get out slasher set on Christmas? Between that, a warm message and a heart that grows three sizes, MacIntyre's and Kennedy’s film is destined to become a cult holiday horror movie that fans will want to revisit every year. More importantly, it will remind everyone that you do matter. You are needed. I can’t imagine a more thoughtful present from the filmmakers than that. And it's the thought that counts.
It's a Wonderful Knife arrives in theaters on November 10th.
By Matt Konopka