January 6, 2021, was the day many Americans asked themselves, “How did we get here?” If you want an answer, look no further than Black Friday. If people will instigate a riot over discount waffle irons, imagine what an election will do to them. The opening of Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a sharp satire of the holiday and where we are as a society. As a mob gathers to break down the barriers of a superstore, our main characters park in a handicapped spot. If that’s not enough to make you hate the driver, he wants to buy a phone to text in a movie theater. All hell breaks loose when the doors crack open, resulting in multiple deaths. But hey, at least people got their waffle irons, which strangely aren’t used as weapons in this film.
Although the remainder of Thanksgiving isn’t as clever as the first ten minutes, this may be Roth’s most gleefully fun horror picture. The film is based on a faux trailer for 2007’s Grindhouse. Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun already made the leap to features. With Thanksgiving joining the club, we just need Edgar Wright to make Don’t and Rob Zombie to direct Werewolf Women of the SS. Where the Thanksgiving trailer had a grindhouse aesthetic that matched 70s cinema, the film is a clear product of 2023.
Along with echoes of the Capitol attack, Roth’s film captures a thankless society where there’s never an inappropriate time to a live stream. A year after the superstore riot went viral, a mysterious killer wearing a John Carver mask sets a table for Thanksgiving. The guest list also just so happens to be the menu. Patrick Dempsey’s sheriff is on the case, although it’ll likely be up to Plymouth’s resident Scooby Gang to unmask this screwy pilgrim. Nell Verlaque plays Jessica, one of the few teens we don’t want to see in a deep fryer. Roth otherwise has fun carving up his characters as if they were Tom Turkey.
While Thanksgiving has several nods to the original trailer, Roth ups the gore to hilariously unrealistic proportions. How hard is it to snap somebody’s head off or chop them in half? I’m no expert, but this movie makes the human body appear about as sturdy as stuffing. Although the violence isn’t realistic, some of the decisions that the characters make are even more ludicrous. Nobody in this movie is above walking down a dark, seemingly empty hallway or going out of their way to antagonize the villain. One could argue that Roth is paying homage to classic slasher troupes. However, there comes a point where you want to steal a line from Edgar Wright and scream, “Don’t!”
At its best, Thanksgiving has the makings of a satirical horror classic in the vein of Scream. Other times, it settles for being an intentionally dumb B-movie. Considering that the film is based on a Grindhouse trailer, maybe the latter shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even at its most stupid and predictable, Thanksgiving knows how to have fun with its premise and kills. For horror junkies who need a holiday treat to hold them over between Halloween and Black Christmas, Thanksgiving is a satisfying meal with enough laughs and bloodshed to go around the table. It may not reach its full potential, but when the only other alternative is ThanksKilling, consider yourself thankful.