Eli Roth's long-awaited cinematic feast, "Thanksgiving," fulfills the macabre promise made in his 2007 mock trailer that teased, "white meat ... dark meat ... all will be carved, this Thanksgiving." The feature film lives up to the anticipation, steering clear of the jump-scare frenzy seen in Blumhouse productions or the highbrow storytelling found in A24-esque elevated horror. Instead, "Thanksgiving" revels in its thrillingly pure nastiness, harkening back to '80s films like "Mother's Day," "Graduation Day," and "New Year's Evil." Arriving just in time for the holidays, Roth and writer Jeff Rendell concoct a delicious blend of horror and comedy in the opening scenes. The film kicks off with a Black Friday sale, showcasing expert timing for shock and laugh-out-loud moments as a feverish mob storms a department store in a chaotic pursuit of deals. Roth cleverly satirizes the true meaning of "Black Friday" as blood splatters and lives are lost over free waffle irons.
A year later, a masked killer, bearing the visage of the first Plymouth, Massachusetts governor John Carver, terrorizes the town, targeting those involved in the Black Friday tragedy. The film's narrative weaves through a diverse cast, efficiently establishing potential victims while maintaining the relatability of its opening sequence. Rendell's script injects humor into the high schoolers' lives, making them more than mere blood bags and enhancing the terror as the killer's cryptic messages and ominous table images unfold.
"Thanksgiving" excels in maintaining a balance between horror and comedy, with only one well-executed jump scare. The film's timing is its strength, offering impressive, over-the-top kills that deliver the desired whiplash effect. However, the final act tests the viewer's tolerance for sadism, risking pacing issues and a potential disconnect with the director's intent.
Despite a 16-year wait, "Thanksgiving" arrives as a potential revival for the slasher genre in studio horror. Engineered for hooting and hollering, the film is a passion project with constant momentum and specificity. While not necessarily Roth's magnum opus, "Thanksgiving" cements his status as a wickedly good entertainer, proving that when he isn't just splattering guts, he can craft an exhilarating cinematic experience. 3.5/5