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This "Thanksgiving" definitely ain't a turkey!
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While there’s a plethora of Christmas movies there aren’t a ton of Thanksgiving offerings. Titles jumping to mind include “The Last Waltz,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Scent of a Woman,” “Home for the Holidays” and “Pieces of April.” We can add another to the list – Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” (now in theaters), a continuation of the trailer he made for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s beloved (by me at least) bomb “Grindhouse” from 16 years ago.
It’s Thanksgiving and RightMart, owned by Plymouth, Mass.-based businessman Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman, reuniting with Roth 17 years after “Hostel”), is open for business. When Thomas’ daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) gets her friends – baseballer boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), fellow jocks Evan (Tomaso Sanelli) and Scuba (Gabriel Davenport) and their respective girlfriends Gabby (social media influencer Addison Rae) and Yulia (Jenna Warren) – admitted into the store early it sets off a riot led by rival high school letterman Lonnie (Mika Amonsen). The rampage results in the deaths of at least three people.
We flash forward exactly one year. Not much has changed in Plymouth except for the fact that Jessica’s now dating the studious Ryan (Milo Manheim, son of actress Camryn) … and there’s a killer on the loose dressed like a pilgrim who’s offing anyone they deem responsible for the RightMart riot. It’ll be up to the Plymouth Police in the form of Sheriff Eric Newlon (current Sexiest Man Alive Patrick Dempsey), his newly-appointed dickish deputy Labelle (Jeff Teravainen) and Det. Peter Chu (Russell Yuen) to bring the crazed killer to justice.
Roth’s a filmmaker I’ve always admired despite sometimes not enjoying his work. I’m happy to report that “Thanksgiving” is easily one of his best movies to date. It’s even cooler that it was written by his lifelong friend Jeff Rendell (with story assistance from Roth himself). (Apparently, the two have wanted to make a holiday-themed slasher flick since seeing “Silent Night, Deadly Night” together theatrically as children.)
Roth and Rendell with the assistance of composer Brandon Roberts, Czech cinematographer Milan Chadima (reteaming with Roth for the first time since “Hostel” and “Hostel: Part II”) and editors Michel Aller and Michele Conroy have crafted a very fun and funny throwback to slasher films of the 1980s. There’s some deft skewering of our consumerist culture, three really effective jump scares and two death sequences that rank among the best in recent memory (you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em). Roth pushes the envelope of good taste (especially in a scene paying homage to Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), but has enough restraint (and sense) to pull back before things get too putrid. The movie’s biggest blight is its excessive usage of the F-word in the early goings. (I know a lot of folks from Massachusetts talk like this, but it’s fairly obnoxious and over the top.)
It likely won’t bring any converts to the holiday-themed slasher subgenre, but this “Thanksgiving” definitely ain’t a turkey.