"Thanksgiving" stars Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, Milo Manheim, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Nell Verlaque, Rick Hoffman, and Gina Gershon. Released on November 17, 2023, the film has a serial killer hunting people in Plymouth during Thanksgiving.
The film was directed by Eli Roth, who also directed films such as "Cabin Fever," "Hostel," "The Green Inferno," and "The House with a Clock in Its Walls." It is based on Eli Roth and Jeff Rendell's mock trailer from 2007's "Grindhouse". With Halloween out of the picture, we would assume that we'd celebrate Thanksgiving with our friends and family without any masked psychotic killers threatening us. Boy, were we wrong? With every joyful annual holiday we have celebrated for decades, a movie involving a killer arrives to spoil our festivities, notably "Halloween" and "Silent Night, Deadly Night". Now, we see Thanksgiving getting the horror slasher treatment courtesy of the master of splatter himself, Eli Roth, in his first adult-rated project since the 2018 "Death Wish" remake. I hope you didn't have a massive Thanksgiving meal beforehand because, as the marketing suggests, it'll ensure you won't be full for long. With that said, let's see if this turkey is worth carving.
The story centers on the townspeople of Plymouth, Massachusetts coping with the tragic end of the Black Friday event a year ago. One of them is Sheriff Eric Newlon (Dempsey), who strives to keep the town safe during the Thanksgiving holiday. The other is Jessica (Verlaque), the daughter of store owner Thomas Wright (Hoffman) and one of the survivors. The festivities are then interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious masked killer known as "The Carver", who terrorizes and kills victims involved in the Black Friday riot. With Thanksgiving at risk of being canceled, Jessica and her friends attempt to subdue The Carver and unmask its true identity before they wind up on dinner plates.
It's been a while since I watched "Grindhouse", but I remember enjoying it for its over-the-top splatter goodness and exploitation-esque presentations. Plus, it shows how Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and many others involved can pull off some sick and brutal kills and have fun with them. Besides the double features, "Grindhouse" is also known for providing fictional trailers between the feature films, with three of them becoming feature-length movies directed by the same people who created those trailers. Robert Rodriguez has "Machete," and Jason Eisener directed "Hobo with a Shotgun", which I haven't watched yet. Now, we have Eli Roth and Jeff Rendell taking advantage of this trend by bringing their fake trailer involving a murderous pilgrim to the big screen. A horror movie involving Thanksgiving isn't entirely new, but in this case, it's better than having another slasher film occur during Halloween or Christmas. Let's hope they decide to make an Easter horror movie soon.
If you've seen the "Thanksgiving" trailer in "Grindhouse" or Eli Roth's previous horror movies, you'll know that this film doesn't hold back on the violence and gore. While it has the usual elements of a regular slasher movie, "Thanksgiving" also attempts to provide a throwback to the 70s exploitation films regarding its kills and concept. I barely remember the "Thanksgiving" trailer from "Grindhouse", so I just went in expecting it to stand out from the horror crowd regarding its entertainment values. Fortunately, it didn't make me wish I was at home preparing for the holiday. Even though it doesn't do anything unique to its standard genre formula, "Thanksgiving" is one of the few occasions where an old-fashioned horror narrative can be fun and gleefully absurd with the proper execution and effort.
I haven't been impressed with some of Roth's previous works, save for the family-friendly "The House with a Clock in Its Walls". While I can credit him for honoring the old-school, gore-infested horror movies of years past, his recent films took those disgusting and often offensive brutalities for granted instead of making them entertaining for me. Thankfully, "Thanksgiving" sees Eli Roth back in top form with his delightful mixture of cheesy horror entertainment and over-the-top gore. Also, the tension-filled buildups and even the jump scares were executed effectively by Roth's direction, which is enough to accompany its familiar yet reasonably tolerable plot. I would even say they succeeded in making the Black Friday event more horrific than it already is, making it one of my favorite opening sequences of the genre. If that sequence isn't enough to make people have common sense during Black Friday, I don't know what will.
Additionally, the film also has a surprising amount of humor to coincide with its bleak and serious tone, and most of them are actually quite funny. Some of those comedy bits rely on its cheesy dialogue and some of the film's absurd moments, but they didn't appear as annoyingly parodic or tasteless. Periodically, it does risk its tone becoming uneven and misdirected, but Roth ensured that the humor is basted smoothly onto its terrifying tone. The result was a deliciously twisted turkey that delighted my tastebuds with its frightful and comedic seasonings. As mentioned earlier, its narrative doesn't break any new ground in its cliches. However, it provides tolerability in its characters and the theme of tragedy, which other recent horror movies have tried and failed to accomplish. The characters' tolerable presence benefited from its decent cast, including Patrick Dempsey as Newlon. Nell Verlaque is also a likable addition to the cast as Jessica regarding her performance. The movie also has a passable third-act twist that helps it avoid its predictable outcome.
But what about the film's gory kills, you ask? They're as gross and violent as I expected from an Eli Roth movie, which doesn't surprise me based on my experience with his works. However, they're also surprisingly entertaining to witness. The brutal kills are undoubtedly far-fetched and repulsive, but they also have a fair amount of restraint to avoid being disgustingly exhausting without sacrificing satisfaction. Regarding the execution and practical effects, the fatalities are delectable enough to satisfy splatter fans but may make those with weak stomachs wish they didn't fill themselves up with Thanksgiving dinner beforehand.
Overall, "Thanksgiving" is a wickedly entertaining and delightfully absurd turkey that'll make horror fans and splatter exploitation followers gobble for joy. It follows the play-by-play formula set by other slasher movies before it, especially ones involving holidays, and the storytelling may not have taken full advantage of its thematic depth. However, the film serves a good amount of fun, kills, and even laughs to avoid being overcooked. The cast made a decent effort to make their characters bearable, and Eli Roth delivered a satisfying mixture of humor, violence, and over-the-top gore. Along with its diverting plot, effective scares and tension, and suitable practical effects, the latest holiday gore-fest is respectfully served on a cinematic platter. If you enjoyed some of Roth's previous works, it's worth watching with an audience. However, I wouldn't recommend it to people who can't stomach splatter horror movies unless they want to make more room for leftovers.