Thanksgiving review | I am thankful for Eli Roth

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After a Black Friday sale ends in tragedy, a masked killer terrorises the teens responsible in Eli Roth’s ludicrously frothy thriller. Here’s our Thanksgiving review.

Eli Roth has made his directorial name making wryly horrifying nonsense for a number of years now. Thanksgiving will not change your opinion of his filmmaking either way. For his fans, that’s surely exactly how they like it.

His style is at once incredibly specific and absurdly broad. Thanksgiving in particular is exactly, down to the tiniest detail in its set pieces and performances, the film you would expect it to be. It’s based off Roth’s mock trailer from 2007’s Grindhouse, and it shows. Thanksgiving is probably the best no budget, straight-to-streaming, goofy horror flick you’ve ever seen – except it’s distributed by a major studio.

The plot is delightfully cookie-cutter in its execution. When Jessica (Nell Verlaque) sneaks her friends into her father’s store on Black Friday, a riot breaks out. This, very entertainingly, is bad news. A year later, with the town still coming to terms with the murderous display of human greed, Jessica’s dad (Rick Hoffman) sparks controversy by keeping the store open for the same holiday.

Not to worry, though, because a figure dressed in a dodgy pilgrim costume is here to teach everyone the error of their ways, tormenting Jessica’s family and friends by putting severed bits of their bodies on place mats at his Thanksgiving table. Cue 106 minutes of faces being pushed through sharp objects. You get the idea.  

While Thanksgiving is hardly a film for the squeamish, each kill is delivered with such over-the-top joy at the grisly side of filmmaking that it’s difficult to find anything too horrifying. Every impact with a human body produces twice as much blood as you’d expect, intestines fly across the screen like strings of sausages in a copy of the Beano, and appendages are severed with the ease of a knife chopping through marzipan. Like the best hokey, low-budget horror, every moment is so gloriously heightened that it can’t help but come out the other side hysterically funny.

The performances, too, toe that line between comedy and horror perfectly, with lines delivered with just enough sincerity that we can be sure everyone involved is in on the joke. They’re helped by some authentically Hallmark-looking set and costume design, which only adds to the feeling that the filmmakers didn’t have two pennies to rub together. While it’s certainly impressive to make a film on a small budget look like it was made with a large one, there’s a delightful skill in making a large budget so authentically look like it didn’t exist at all.

There are moments where the joke threatens to wear thin, and some sequences er on the slightly long side when we know they’ll end with a suitably grisly murder. But by the time the third act wheels around with some authentically punny dialogue (“this year, there will be no leftovers”), Thanksgiving cheerfully gallops to the conclusion we all knew was coming 90 minutes ago – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanksgiving won’t be for everyone. It is, fundamentally, very silly. But as an entertainingly accomplished ode to no-budget horror, Eli Roth’s latest can’t help but bring a smile to my face. It’s the most I’ve laughed at a face impaled on a spike in years.

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