Thanksgiving movie poster

Thanksgiving

In theaters November 17, 2023

Rated

, ,

107 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

Thanksgiving (2023) was not on my dance card until two months ago. Then, the only thing I had to go on was a poster with the silhouette of a Thanksgiving-style Pilgrim holding an ax. Having only recently suffered the indignities of The Exorcist: Believer (2023) and the unevenness of Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023), I wasn’t sure what Eli Roth thought he had to show me. We haven’t been on speaking terms since the shamelessly derivative Green Inferno (2013) and I wasn’t ready to trust again.

A year after the Thanksgiving Day Right Mart riot that saw the small town of Plymouth, MA lose beloved residents in a hyper-consumer rage, five college-bound teens find themselves stalked by a killer. Jessica (Nell Verlaque), Gabby (Addison Rae), Yulia (Jenna Warren) and Scuba (Gabriel Davenport) were part of the tragedy, with Jessica’s dad (Rick Hoffman) owning the store and having a back way in, and anyone connected to the store’s violence becomes a target. Dressed in a John Carver mask and pilgrim hat, the unknown killer is picking off instigators of the riots, as well as the teens involved. John Carver was the first governor of Plymouth, and it’s not information you would normally retain unless it was repeated a hundred times, so you’re in luck.

Patrick Dempsey plays Sheriff Newlon, helping the kids track down potential witnesses while his accent tries to settle on a region. Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) and Ryan (Milo Manheim) Gabby’s former and current boyfriends fight for her affection in petty but funny ways. The Pilgrim skillfully carves his way to a showdown using a livestream to lure the instigators to their deaths. Nothing about Thanksgiving felt ridiculous and please understand how hard that is to say in a review about a murderous Pilgrim with an axe. It’s only 107 minutes, which is longer than most horror should be, but without the bloated backstory, research montage, or even the villain’s soliloquy, Thanksgiving hums from the first slice to the last explosion.

My main complaint with Eli Roth films is his inability to balance story, horror, and comedy. The humor was never carefully synced with the horror and the story couldn’t hold the horror and comedy together. Thanksgiving’s screenplay, written by Jeff Rendell and Eli Roth, leaves the slapstick and corny one-liners in the pantry. The humor is situational without being painfully contrived, and the horror is gory without being over the top. This is not to say that John Carver’s victims don’t go out in a spectacular bloody style, I mean for mainstream audiences and an R rating.

Thanksgiving feels like a 21st Century return to Grindhouse with a Mystery Machine twist. Thanksgiving manages to work as a capable thriller throwing out plausible red herrings and revealing the killer as someone with an honest-to-goodness motive. I want to watch it again to see how well it’s broadcast. The body count is relatively low, and it may surprise you to see who makes it to the end.

This isn’t to say Eli Roth and I are on speaking terms. He’s not wooing me back with a simple gesture of narrative competency and visceral images of death and dismemberment. I’m not cheap. However, I can be big enough to say that Thanksgiving is an amazing amount of fun, and likely worth a few viewings just to make sure the Is were dotted.

Thanksgiving (2023) is rated R for a riot, people being trampled, people being scalped, broken arms, spikes in places spikes ought not be, broken necks, roasting alive, and the general dismemberment that comes from axes and knives.

Thanksgiving is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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