Holiday-themed horror movies are nothing new. We’ve had Halloween, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, Leprechaun — we’ve even had a birthday-themed horror movie with Happy Death Day! So when Thanksgiving, the new slasher film from Eli Roth, hit theaters on November 17th, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking. And the ridiculous premise didn’t help matters. The movie follows a group of teenagers in Plymouth, Massachusetts as they’re stalked by an axe-wielding pilgrim. If you saw the trailer, your reaction probably included laughing or eye-rolling. So, yes, it might be tempting to dismiss Thanksgiving at first glance but don’t write it off just yet. Thanksgiving is a successful mixture of riotous comedy and campy carnage.
As you might’ve guessed, the movie starts out on Thanksgiving night, as a huge crowd of Plymouth residents are gathered outside of a superstore waiting for the start of a special Black Friday sale. Jess (Nell Verlaque) is the daughter of the store’s owner, so she and her friends sneak into the store early using the back entrance. When the crowd sees this, they become enraged, leading to a violent stampede that results in multiple deaths. The movie doesn’t ease you into its gruesome nature. No, it throws you right into the action with kills involving shopping carts and waffle irons, which will make you full-body cringe.
One year after the Black Friday riot, the town is attempting to return to normal, with most of the residents hoping to move on from that horrific night. But not everyone is willing to let it go. One by one, residents start getting killed off by a person dressed in a pilgrim hat and a mask of John Carver, the first governor of Plymouth. Jess and her friends — with help from the town’s sheriff, Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) — figure out that the killer is targeting people who were involved in the Black Friday riot, and they race to stop him before it’s too late.
A revenge-seeking killer isn’t a new concept, but this movie keeps its premise fresh by getting creative with the nature of the kills. Most of Carver’s kills are Thanksgiving-themed in one way or another. With scenes that involve corn cob holders being shoved into someone’s ears and human skin getting seasoned like a turkey, the film might make you view your Thanksgiving feast in a more nauseating way. At my showtime, people in the theater cringed and exclaimed expletives at every kill, often having to look away or cover their eyes. Think twice before going to see this movie on a full stomach. But apart from the grossness, the over-the-top, campy nature of the killing methods adds an element of humor that makes these grisly scenes feel more fun than anything else.
Ultimately, Thanksgiving works because it’s in on the joke. It leans into the absurd, humorous, and cliché elements in a tongue-in-cheek way, whether that’s a dying man desperately reaching for a sale-priced waffle iron as he bleeds out, a character hiding from Carver by blending in with an array of mannequins, or dialogue like, “You can’t just DM the killer!” I mean, the tagline for the movie is, “There will be no leftovers.” That is so corny. I love it!
Now, there are some weaker elements in the film as well. In terms of acting, it’s a mixed bag. The performances are solid in the moments of terror where characters have to scream and run for their lives, but they’re underwhelming in all of the in-between moments of dialogue and character development. I expected as much from cast members like TikTok star Addison Rae, but even an established actor like Dempsey felt unconvincing at times. It doesn’t detract from your enjoyment of the movie, but it does impact your ability to connect with the characters and root for them (their inconsistent New England accents didn’t help, either). And the film’s final act felt incredibly rushed. The reveal of Carver’s identity and motive felt hurried and thrown together, and Jess’s final confrontation with him felt anticlimactic as a result. But maybe I was placing too many high expectations on a movie that never claimed to take itself seriously.
I haven’t seen a horror movie as fun as Thanksgiving in a long time. And is there anything wrong with a horror movie that’s purely fun? There are plenty of psychological, heavy horror movies to watch nowadays if that’s what you’re looking for. But Thanksgiving feels more like a return to the classic slashers of the 80s and 90s, like Friday the 13th or I Know What You Did Last Summer. It takes viewers on a hilariously wild ride that’s sure to enliven theaters. The Thanksgiving-themed kills are no-holds-barred, which any gore-loving moviegoer will appreciate. Despite this level of gore, the film keeps a satirical and humorous tone, leading to a good amount of laugh-out-loud moments. Even John Carver’s killings will make you laugh due to the sheer insanity of his methods! There might be some pieces of Thanksgiving that feel slightly undercooked, but as a whole, it’s a deliciously chaotic and entertaining meal.
Thanksgiving is playing in theaters now.