Black Christmas Parent Guide
A film where the real horror comes from the social conditions that allow the slasher to succeed...
Parent Movie Review
While staying at Hawthorne College over the holidays, Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) has noticed an unsettling pattern. A number of her friends have gone missing, and the “Founders Fraternity” has become more active and aggressive. Worse yet, Brian (Ryan McIntyre), the man who sexually assaulted her at the school a few years ago has returned for the seasonal celebrations. As people continue to vanish and things get worse, Riley will have to rely on her sorority sisters Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Marty (Lily Donoghue), and a young man she met at the café, Landon (Caleb Eberhardt) to help her survive Christmas at school…
I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas movies: when people ask what I watch for Christmas, my answer is The Shining and Die Hard. So the idea of reviewing some campy Christmas horror was not exactly the highlight of my week. Thankfully, this is not that. Black Christmas is a deeply political feminist horror flick, and I’m glad I saw it.
The film is centered around misogyny and sexual assault, neither of which is used for shock value or fun. These are the underlying factors that allow the usual horror movie slashing/stabbing/chasing/general mayhem to occur. The motivations are rooted in these real-world social and political crises, and the discussions the film has about violence towards women are serious and significant. Just as Get Out used the horror genre as a lens to talk about race in America, Black Christmas uses it to talk about sexual violence on college campuses.
Unfortunately, the political conversation isn’t always as well integrated into the plot as it could be and drags the pacing from time to time. On the other hand, the acting and writing are much better than average for holiday horror features. Cary Elwes is clearly having fun as a malicious professor, putting in some good work at being oily and self-absorbed.
I was very surprised when I saw that Black Christmas had earned a PG-13 rating, a rarity in the horror genre. Credit to the director, Sophia Takal, it comes in quite comfortably at this rating, even more surprising when you consider that the 1974 film of the same name was a “hard R”, a prototypical 70’s slasher, with the unpleasantly fetishized violence against women that typifies the genre. This remake has more sanitized violence, with the murders usually occurring off-screen. There is a lot of contextual significance and discussion about sexual violence, but nothing particularly explicit. The largest problem is profanity, with roughly seventeen uses of a scatological term.
It’s nice to see the horror genre, so comfortable with setting up cardboard female characters for brutal slaughter, forced to confront well developed female characters with a strong preference for not being murdered or objectified. This isn’t going to be a film for everyone, and certainly not for children, but teenagers willing to take a dash of gender politics with their Christmas butchery are in for a good time.Directed by Sophia Takal. Starring Imogen Poots, Lily Donoghue, and Cary Elwes. Running time: 92 minutes. Theatrical release December 13, 2019. Updated March 16, 2020
Rating & Content Info
Why is Black Christmas rated PG-13? Black Christmas is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for violence, terror, thematic content involving sexual assault, language, sexual material and drinking.
Violence: Around a dozen people are killed, some murdered, some in self-defense. Methods include icicle stabbing, garroting, and suffocating, along with more conventional horror weapons: arrows, axes, knives, and bats. Several individuals are set on fire. A number of dead bodies are seen.
Sexual Content: A couple is shown passionately kissing. There are references to and non-graphic depictions of sexual assault. There are several references to sexual behaviors, and one non-descriptive reference to sex toys.
Profanity: There are 17 uses of moderate profanity, half a dozen uses of mild profanity, and infrequent use of terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Individuals are shown drinking champagne at a Christmas party. One individual is shown as drunk. Several empty liquor bottles are shown at a fraternity house.
Page last updated March 16, 2020
Black Christmas Parents' Guide
Riley has been the victim of a sexual assault on her university campus, and when she reported the incident, the police refused to act. Are there any real-world events that sound like this? What are the reported rates of sexual assault on university campuses? What has been done to address this issue? What more needs to be done to support survivors of sexual assault? What barriers exist to prevent false accusations?
The New York Times: 45 Stories of Sex and Consent on Campus
End Rape On Campus: Resources
The New York Times: Equipping Women to Stop Campus Rape
The “Founders Fraternity” is a hyper-masculine, misogynist organization which believes that women are fundamentally inferior and subservient to men. What are some real life organizations with a similar agenda? The New Republic: The Rise of Male Supremacist Groups
Fraternities have been at the heart of a number of scandals in recent years. Why do you think that is? Do you think the depiction in this film would fit in with those?
The New York Times: A Frat Boy and a Gentleman
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want tales of Christmas mayhem and murder, start with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas sees her famous detective enjoying a traditional English Christmas, until murder intervenes. And The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding features several bite-sized short stories of seasonal death and mystery.
Anne Perry has written a series of Christmas murder mystery novellas set in the Victorian era. The first is A Christmas Journey.
If you want it a bit darker, mystery novelist P.D. James serves up The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, featuring her sleuth Adam Dalgliesh.
The classic Christmas story, dark but not deadly, is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.