Review: 'Black Christmas' makes horror personal

Remake of 1974 horror flick takes on sexual politics but loses its way

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "Black Christmas," a group of sorority sisters fights to take back their campus in the time of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. It's a horror movie where the villain is the patriarchy. 

And it does a decent job of working its girl power mojo, until a bunch of last-minute supernatural mumbo jumbo overwhelms what was a fairly grounded script. It's a lump of coal in what was otherwise a pleasantly surprising holiday stocking.   

Imogen Poots and Jonny McBride in "Black Christmas."

Imogen Poots plays Riley, a student at Hawthorne College, where the good ol' boys are steeped in their college traditions of frat parties and sexual assaults. Riley's non-consensual incident with a fraternity president the year prior resulted in his removal from school and her becoming a campus pariah.

Just before holiday break (but with plenty of students still hanging around), Riley attends a frat party where she and her sisters perform a version of the holiday standard "Up on the Housetop" with updated lyrics about date rape. There's already been some suspicious activity around campus, with female students receiving threatening text messages from an account tied to the 200-year-old school's founder, and Riley and her friend's performance only furthers the harassment. And then bodies start disappearing.

"Black Christmas" is the second remake of the 1974 horror flick, and its themes of female empowerment make it very of-the-moment. But it doesn't seem to know where it's headed, and by the time a mysterious black goo becomes a plot point, director and co-writer Sophia Takal has lost her way.

It's too bad. At its best, "Black Christmas" is a smart alternative to slasher horror, and Takal provides a needed voice in the current conversation. Her message is clear, but her execution needs some work.


'Black Christmas'


Rated PG-13: for violence, terror, thematic content involving sexual assault, language, sexual material and drinking

Running time: 92 minutes