It's a Wonderful Knife
Pandering Christmas horror-comedy doesn't have enough scares nor laughs.
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My mother-in-law and I often have friendly debates about what constitutes a Christmas movie. Her favorite Christmas flick is “White Christmas” … mine is “Die Hard.” I’m fairly certain she’d have a conniption over “It’s a Wonderful Knife” (now in theaters and streaming on Shudder beginning Friday, Dec. 22) as it’s a slasher-tinged spin on Frank Capra’s beloved classic (another one of her holiday faves).
Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop, “Yellowjackets”) is a high school student with loving parents David (Joel McHale) and Judy (Erin Boyes), a quarterback brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard) and a supportive best friend Cara Evans (Hana Huggins). They all live in the idyllic town of Angel Falls, which is overseen by the coiffed, tanned and veneered land baron Henry Waters (Justin Long).
It’s Christmas Eve and Henry insists that his subordinate David work. Henry needs David’s assistance in talking Cara’s grandfather Roger (William B. Davis, best known as The Cigarette-Smoking Man from “The X-Files”) into selling them his property so he can develop Waters’ Crossing – a shi-shi restaurant and shopping development.
As soon as Roger refuses, bodies begin dropping. A white-clad angel of death turns up to terminate the kindly folks of Angel Falls. Winnie manages to save Jimmy and in the process kills the killer.
We flash forward one year. David and Jimmy have become a successful real estate duo and the Carruthers family are soaking up the holiday spirits – everyone save for Winnie. She’s still grappling with the trauma resulting from last year’s rampage … so much so that she wishes she was never born.
Faster than you can say, “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings,” Winnie gets “unborn.” In this scenario Angel Falls is a dump, Jimmy’s dead, David’s crawled into the bottle and Judy’s crawling into bed with a series of himbos. Everyone thinks this iteration of Winnie is crazy save for school outcast Bernie Simon (Jess McLeod), who serves as a Clarence of sorts (Clarice?) to Winnie’s George Bailey.
“It’s a Wonderful Knife” as directed by Tyler MacIntyre (“Tragedy Girls”) and scripted by Michael Kennedy (“Freaky”) is a better title than it is a movie. It’s a horror-comedy that’s not nearly scary or funny enough. There are a coupla cool kills, but most of them are entirely too reliant on computer-generated imagery. Most of the laughs come from Long, who’s hilariously riffing on former President Donald Trump.
I applaud the filmmakers for being inclusive … to a point. They cast Cassandra Naud (an actress with a pronounced birthmark on her right cheek) as Karen, the girlfriend of Winnie and Jimmy’s Aunt Gale (genre vet Katherine Isabelle … sadly underused). The script from Kennedy (an out and rightfully proud man) opts to make most of its primary teenage characters queer. I’m all for inclusion, but by making both Carruthers siblings gay it seems a bit like pandering. With “It’s a Wonderful Knife” Kennedy treats homosexuality like Oprah Winfrey treats cars: “You’re gay and you’re gay and you’re gay. Everybody is gay!” To Kennedy’s credit – he does smartly subvert stereotypes by having Jimmy be both gay and a quarterback.
I don’t think I’ll be adding “It’s a Wonderful Knife” to my holiday rotation in years to come, which should serve as a relief to my mother-in-law. Qualitatively, it hews much closer to the “Black Christmases” of 2019 and 2006 than it does the 1974 original – that is to say it’s mid.