[Content Warning: The film reviewed and the review talk extensively about sexual assault]
Once again, I finish a film and I ask, “Why did I do this to myself?”
2019’s Black Christmas had vaguely caught my attention before it came out. Between that and the world falling apart in 2020, I was only aware that the film was a) an attempt at a feminist slasher film and b) it had tanked.
So this year, I thought I’d take a look to see what was so bad about it.
I was not prepared, Dear Reader. I was woefully unprepared. I wasn’t prepared for the “what the hell were they thinking?” badness that is this film, especially in how it tries to interweave feminism and horror. As a result, the horror is nonexistent and the feminism is highly questionable.
Let’s dive in, shall we? Ho ho ho!
The film opens with a quote. A fake quote from a made up person, which is a trope that deeply annoys me. The quote is by Calvin Hawthorne, the imaginary founder of Hawthorne College, our setting for the film.
We open on a trope-tastic scene of fraternity brothers in cloaks, chanting. I guess it’s supposed to be creepy. Nope. Just trite.
Cut to a lone sorority sister, Lyndsey, leaving a campus building alone late at night. She’s bummed because she’s missing secret Santa at her sorority and she knows her gift is a vibrator. Not a joke, that’s the actual script.
Walking past cheery Christmas lawn decorations and lights, she gets a social media message from an account named “Calvin Hawthorne.” The image is just the emojis of a pig and a cat. Cute!
The message continues, “What do a Christmas ham and a sorority girl have in common? They both squeal before they die.” Oh…not so cute.
Lyndsey notices a man walking behind her. She starts walking briskly and pulls the “keys between your knuckles” move. She turns around, and sees that the man has changed directions. He heard those jingly keys and knew she meant business!
Oh good. Threat over. There’s definitely not going to be a threatening figure behind her when she—
Ope, there he is. A Cloaked Figure has appeared behind her out of thin air. Now Lyndsey gets running.
She dashes up to a nearby house and begins banging on the door, yelling for help. She turns back and sees that the cloaked figure has vanished.
…but that obviously doesn’t mean she’s safe yet, so she just keeps banging on that door until someone answers, right? …right?
Nope, Lyndsey starts walking away from the house i.e. potential safety and doesn’t call for help i.e. 911. She instead starts to call one of her fellow sorority sisters. Um. Hon. I know you’re worried about missing Secret Santa, but you gotta call 911.
Once she’s about halfway down the driveway, the Cloaked Figure reappears. Lyndsey runs up to a different house, once again calling for help. A light from within the house comes on, the door opens… And Cloaked Figure is coming from inside the house!
Wow, so that’s really stupid.
Because either a) the script stopped caring about ‘suspension of disbelief’ and has decided it’s reasonable for the Cloaked Figure to have entered that particular house in a split second or b) the script just made it obvious that there are multiple cloaked killers, i.e. a conspiracy of cloaks. Oh, spoiler: there’s a cloaked conspiracy afoot. Definitely has nothing to do with all the cloaked frat members you saw 4 minutes ago. Nope. Totally unrelated.
Anyway, Cloaked Figure grabs an icicle and stabs Lyndsey with it. Not a big icicle, not even a very sharp looking one. But I guess Lyndsey is made of tissue paper, because it goes right into her chest. Lyndsey falls to the ground and the cloak guy pounces on her. Using the world’s most durable icicle, he continues to stab her. Lyndsey flails, making a snow angel.
It’s the best onscreen death we get the entire film. That’s in spite of it being a completely bloodless death—that’s right, a bloodless stabbing death. Most of the kills from here on out are given a split second of screen time and are bloodless.
Welcome to Why I Hate PG13 Movies.
But here’s why I have to pause. I don’t think the PG13 rating is entirely to blame for this bloodless slasher. I think that has a lot to do with the good intentions but horrendously executed vision of the film’s director and screenwriter, Sophia Takal. Takal approached this project as a feminist take on the slasher, likely trying to avoid exploitative deaths of female co-eds.
This is a slasher movie. It’s a recreation of 1974’s Black Christmas, credited as the first slasher movie. These films are created for the appetite of a certain audience: an audience that wants a gory spectacle.
If you really wanted to turn the genre on its head (as Tarkal fails to do), don’t have the sorority sisters die at all. While the climax involves the sisters rising up to kill a bunch of frat bros (spoiler), it still relies upon the buildup of girls dying. And here’s the clincher with slasher films: if you introduce flat characters that exist just to rack up a kill count, then the only way they’ll ultimately matter to the audience is how they die.
We cut to the next morning and see our protagonist, Riley, just waking up at her sorority, MKE. Which, coming from Wisconsin, I just think of as “The Milwaukee Sorority.” Their motto: ‘Beers, Brats, Sisterhood.’
Fran, a sorority sister who only exists to get killed in her third scene, bursts in. Without so much as a ‘good morning,’ she declares that she’s missing her Diva Cup and needs a new one. Riley tosses her a fresh one from a drawer. Fran proceeds to thrust her hand and the cup into her jeans and “situate” herself. UM, look I’m all for period positivity, but no one needs to see you “situate” yourself. That’s your business, definitely not mine.
Everyone is packing up before winter break. Riley walks through the sorority house, continuing the tour of dead meat i.e. her fellow sorority sisters whose names you’ll never remember. First, Riley bumps into her ‘little’ sorority sister, Helena. They talk about a magical hair clip that Riley is currently in possession of, and how it’s been passed around the sorority since—oh my God I don’t care.
Next Riley talks to Jesse, a different sister whom I can’t give a single personality trait to. Jesse refers to the sorority’s upcoming “orphan” Christmas dinner for sisters who aren’t going home for winter break. Jesse suddenly realizes she’s made a terrible faux pas, as Riley is an orphan. I know guys, who knew the heroine of our horror movie would have a vague tragic backstory?
Again, hitting pause. The “orphan” angle for Riley is overkill. It never comes up again. For a film that is trumpeting it’s #Woke #Feminism take on the slasher movie, it’s atrocious that they’re clinging to the idea that women protagonists are easiest to cheer on if they’re damaged. Yet classic ‘final girls’ like Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street don’t require trauma to be compelling—they just decide to start kicking ass.
Cut to the campus of Hawthorne College, a Hogwartsian looking establishment. Matching that aesthetic, we cut to Cary Elwes in a lecture hall. Hmm, a British actor among an all American cast is making an appearance? Methinks I found the bad guy.
Elwes is playing Professor Gelson, who teaches a Classics course. On his desk is an ant farm someone gifted to him (evidenced by the big red bow on it). What’s creepier: the person who gifts the ant farm or the person who displays the gifted ant farm in a class that has nothing to do with ants?
Gelson is reading a quote that talks about how men invented culture as a defense against female nature. Surely, Riley supposes aloud, a man wrote that. Ah, but Gelson smarmily reveals that this is in fact a Camille Paglia quote! Are your biased minds blown?
My mind is only blown by how this script is bringing me flashbacks to “Discovering Feminism 101” at a liberal arts college.
Diva cups and dildos, a sorority, creepy cloaks and chanting, a fraternity: do you get the competing themes yet, audience? Do we need to slow down?
Prof. Gelson reveals that there’s a petition circulating to get him fired and he’s pissy about it. He makes the point that his job is to teach the Classics and meh, so what if most of the Classics are written by white men?
Well regardless, your job definitely isn’t to air your professional grievances to the students. Also, does this mean that you made the whole class stay on campus an extra day just to have this hissy fit? Yeah, I think that petition is going to do quite well after this.
Professor Gelson pointedly says, “There is no nefarious plot. There are no covert meetings in hidden rooms.”
You know call me crazy…. But I think there might be a nefarious plot and covert meetings afoot.
Also, if Cary Elwes is the face of the nefarious plot… I think I’m going to go along with whatever said nefarious plot is.
He inhibits this character’s mild charm but quiet sliminess very well. He gives a raised eyebrow and smirk combo that just is chef’s kiss of Entitled Douchebag.
Now we meet another Beers and Brats sister, Kris, an “activist” type. She’s riding high on a recent victory of getting the bust of Calvin Hawthorne removed from a campus building. Yeah, that sounds like a worthy expenditure of time. It’s not like the school was founded by and will forever continue to bear the name of that same guy. …oh wait.
This is actually an important plot point. …not kidding. The placement of a bust of a nonexistent historical figure is central to the movement of the entire story. Yeah, this script starts out meandering to Stupidtown, but then it hits the gas.
Kris is anti-Calvin Hawthorne because he was racist and sexist, owned slaves, and was into the dark arts. *buzzer noise* One of those objections is not like the others!
Kris goes on to claim that Hawthorne killed disobedient women in ritual sacrifices to male pagan gods.
Surely, those claims are hogwash. Surely, these are not the first signs that we’ve taken a wrong turn and are now en route to Stupidtown.
By the way, the Hawthorne bust now dwells at the DKO fraternity. Again, apologies, but knowing the whereabouts of this bust is going to matter later.
Kris is, of course, responsible for that petition trying to get Professor Gelson fired. Her objections are that the Classics course curriculum non-inclusive and that Gelson reacted badly when she brought this up in class. Given how “professionally” Gelson is handling the petition’s existence, I’m sure that was quite the popcorn-worthy exchange. But still, how did Kris think a professor would react to their entire syllabi being questioned in front of the class?
Objectively, sure, Kris has a point. The problem is that the script decides to belabor that point through heavy-handed dialogue. Multiple times. Marty, yet another sorority sister, appears just to act as a convenient “yeah but what about” counter to any of the more “woke” opinions Kris has.
We spend more time debating “oh yeah, well whose ‘Classics’ are they?” than we do on any of the kills in this slasher film. #Priorities.
Riley and Marty, not super convinced, decline signing Kris’s petition. Kris in turn accuses them of, and this is a direct quote: “refusing to confront the white supremacist patriarchy head-on.”
…I’m sorry, did I stumble into tumblr or is this supposed to be a film I’m enjoying?
Because here’s the thing: Kris’s talking points might have their own merit, but the audience doesn’t have a stake in any of this. If we’re going to drag this dialogue out, we need dramatic context. Show us the professor being an outright monster, that his Classics course is fucked up somehow. If the film won’t take the time to show instead of tell, it doesn’t need 15 minutes of film time on this argument.
A male student, Landon, happens to butt in on the ‘lively discussion.’ He’s clearly filling the role of “awkward/cute/seemingly earnest” love interest. He compliments Kris on getting the bust removed and circulating the petition, but he makes eyes at Riley. As he departs, she gives eyes back.
Next, a DKO fraternity brother interrupts the girls’ debate. The sisters are obviously uncomfortable. The frat bro says that he hopes the sisters will be at the talent show DKO is hosting tonight. He mentioned that a frat brother who already graduated, Brian, will be visiting.
This is how the script decides to reveal that a) Riley was assaulted by this Brian guy 3 years ago and b) apparently that’s super common knowledge and everyone just talks about it openly.
Now, we could meditate on this horrific revelation and give it the pause it deserves.
But now, we’ve gotta focus on this talent show that the sorority sisters are committed to performing in.
Yep. Yep that’s correct. Even though one of the former frat brothers assaulted one of their sisters. Even though the frat doesn’t believe the accuser. Even though a different sorority, Delta Sig, is boycotting the talent show for similar reasons.
“We can’t just bail,” says Kris. Well that the fuck happened to taking on the patriarchy head-on, Kris?
Cut to the gals getting ready to perform for the show in their Mean Girls Tribute best ‘back stage’ at the DKO frat house. Yes, short sexy little Santa outfits included.
Riley isn’t supposed to perform, but goes to find ‘little sister’ Helena, who’s wandered off somewhere in the frat house.
Yeah, absolutely. If anyone is going to wander around this frat house where they might run into Riley’s rapist, it should be Riley.
As Riley wanders the corridors, she sees the painted portrait of a former frat brother: Professor Gelson. Kudos to the props department for painting a younger Cary Elwes matching his Princess Bride days.
Riley hears a noise and peaks through a door. She sees one of those stupid frat rituals being performed, with the brothers all in cloaks. New brothers are having their foreheads painting with some kind of black tar. Hmm. Methinks covert meetings and nefarious plotting may be afoot.
The cloaked brothers chant really stupid phrases like, “The power of the Founder compels you.”
Before she can (presumably) laugh her ass off at this gritty reboot of Animal House, Riley is distracted by a sound coming from a different room.
Riley bursts in and finds Helena drunk with a DKO frat bro pushing himself onto her. Riley breaks up the scene. The stereotypical frat bro stereotypically sneers, “You bitches are all the same. You bitches are teases,” and so on. He also adds to Riley, “Brian never would’ve done what you said he did.”
Yeah, Brian never would’ve assaulted a girl like I was totally about to do!
So, this is when our heroic Milwaukee sorority girls pack their pantyhose and take off, right? Because an assault almost happened to one of their sisters just now. Because they’ve invited a rapist to hang out for the weekend. Because this just feels unsafe and fucked up. No way in hell would these feminist sorority sisters stick around and do this talent show, thereby legitimizing this terrible place and people, right? …right?
Riley brings drunk Helena back to the room, clearly unable to perform. Naturally, the sisters begin pressuring Riley to put on a sexy outfit and perform.
Kris, good ol’ activist Kris, urges Riley, “You used to be a fighter.”
Yeah, and if there’s any time to be a fighter, it’s in the name of a stupid Greek talent show.
Why is the most traumatic thing happening in this slasher movie a scene that has nothing to do with blood and death?
And yes, this happens. The girls of MKE, Kris, Marty, Jesse, and Riley all trot out on stage for the talent show. Would you believe the completely predictable result is that Riley sees Brian, her attacker, in the crowd and she freezes?
Kris handles this by growling at Riley, “Rebuild yourself, bitch.”
Hey, Kris? Maybe you say that after a bad breakup. Maybe you say that after failing a test. Maybe you say that after you accidentally spill all the spices in your spice rack all over the kitchen floor.
But when a trauma survivor is having a very reasonable reaction to revisiting their trauma? You can go ahead and shut the fuck up.
So the girls start doing cute little dance moves and singing “Up on the Housetop.”
Oh, but wait! The lyrics are different! And now Riley regains her composure and sings along, “Ho ho ho, I didn’t know / Yes, up in the Frat House, one true fact / And that was I got attacked.”
See, the girls have turned this talent show in front of a meh-sized audience of fellow students into an opportunity to…sing a parody song about how the frat they’re performing in is okay with sexual assault.
Maybe for some, this would be seen as an appropriate way for a pointedly feminist film to deal with sexual assault. Maybe for some, this would be seen as empowering. But for me, this was High Cringe territory.
The cuteness does not fit the context. Parody songs intended to embarrass frat bros are how other films handle issues of lesser stakes, like a bad breakup. I don’t think it works as a “let’s stick it to the rapist(s)” scene.
When a fervor of student attention was focused on sexual assault at my undergrad campus, a group of students protesting by hanging a gigantic banner on the main mess hall: “This School Does Not Care About Rape.”
There are many thoughts and feelings to be had about a sign like that. But it certainly was a much bigger, poignant “fuck you” than this Von Trapp approach at protest.
Some people cheer, the frat brothers boo. After another lyric, the girls cheerfully hop from the stage and dash. On the way out, one of the girls proclaims, “Maybe that’ll teach Brian Huntley not to rape another girl!”
Why, because you have another Christmas parody song about assault in your back pocket? I dread to think what you’ve turned “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” into.
As the girls walk off, awkward Landon sheepishly catches up to them. He compliments Riley on the performance, saying, “I was really impressed.”
Ya know… if this performance was about anything else, this would be considered appropriate and cute. But maybe you wait a day or two before saying, “I was really impressed how you sang about your sexual assault.”
But Riley is charmed nonetheless. As the other sisters trot off merrily, Riley and Landon trail behind exchanging Christmas jokes. Uh oh, Landon’s making bad jokes. So did the mysterious texter from the first scene. Wonder if this is a hint or a Giant Red Herring?
We cut to Helena, who’s back at the sorority house and a bit tipsy. She starts getting messages from “Calvin Hawthorne.” They read, “It has begun,” and “The time is near.” …is this a Q thread? Should the account be named Qalvin Hawthorne?
Suddenly, she’s startled from noise elsewhere in the house. She steps out of her room, looking around. Suddenly, a Cloaked Figure appears behind her!
Next morning, once again bursting in without a knock, it’s Diva Cup. Diva Cup is thrilled to hear how the performance went.
Riley replies, “I thought I would feel good about it but I just feel weird.”
Diva Cup isn’t hearing any of Riley’s completely valid feelings. “Dude! You won! Enjoy it!”
Okay, one: could we all stop telling Riley how to feel or how to deal with her trauma?
Two: “You won”?! Again: we’re not talking revenge after a break up or cheating. If there is such a thing as “winning” surviving sexual assault, it is likely not at a fucking talent show.
In real life, survivors can find healing and victory in whatever ways make most sense to them. But this is a movie. And the way with which this movie is so casually handling this subject is deeply cringe, at best.
Finally, it’s finally revealed that Lyndsey (our victim from the opener) is missing. The response is “meh.”
Our main gang of Riley, Kris, Marty, and Jesse all head out to pick up a Christmas tree. They’re joined by “Smoosh,” Marty’s boyfriend and a member of the DKO frat. Um… I appreciate the “Romeo and Juliet”-esque pairing, but the Capulets and the Montagues were arguing over stupid vague legacy shit, not “is sexual assault bad?”
Anyway, while they head out, DivaCup sister Fran is left alone in the house. She’s looking for the house’s cat. In her search, a Cloaked Figure pops out and garrotes Fran. The cat, like the little shit cats are, doesn’t appear in time. This kill happens so fast you can barely register what exactly has happened to Fran, and again I say that this is poor decision making on the film’s part.
Meanwhile, Riley gets another vaguely threatening message from ol’ Calvin Hawthorne. Then she gets a phone call from Helena’s mom saying Helena didn’t come home for break last night. Considering she rescued Helena from almost being assaulted last night, you’d think of all people Riley would be worried. Instead, she is mildly concerned and figures Helena is still hungover somewhere in the sorority house.
The gang returns to the house, Christmas tree in tow. Sister Jesse, who has been next to nonexistent this whole time, will now be defined by her attempts at making a holiday ham. Oh no, not a ham! That’s just what Calvin Hawthorne wants!
Riley can’t find Helena in the house, and tries to arouse the suspicions of the group by pointing out that now both Lyndsey and Helena are missing. But the group is unphased—it’s break! Whatevs!
After declaring “Something doesn’t feel right,” Riley decides to walk to campus security.
As Riley walks away, we pan to the large outer balcony of the sorority house. We see that Fran’s body has been put there, left out in the snow.
This is a semi-homage to the original Black Christmas, where one of the first victims is left in a window of the attic, sitting there for the rest of the film. But again, this shot goes by so quickly and the image is so blunt that it has next to no effect. In the original Black Christmas, the shot of that horrible dead face in the window is long, and has a grotesque beauty to it.
Again, this is a slasher movie. I came here for a bloodbath. We can discuss how slashers glorify violence against women in harmful ways. But I don’t think the answer is to treat these victims’ deaths with so little gravitas. If anything, I think that unintentionally plays into harmful ideas of women being easily disposable.
As Riley walks to campus security, she keeps getting messages from Calvin Hawthorne. Girl, have you never heard of blocking?
Riley bumps into Landon, and is now suspicious. She asks if he’s been DMing her. Landon babbles that he doesn’t have social media. I’ll give the script credit for this line, “I’d DM you…if you wanted me to…?”
The camera also pointedly settles on an empty glass case with a little note on it saying that the bust of founder Calvin Hawthorne has been removed. Again. This bust. You have to keep notes about this stupid bust for the final scene. …it’s so dumb you guys. So dumb.
Riley goes to campus security to report Helena missing. The campus security officer also says, “Meh, winter break.”
Riley decides that now would be the best time to recount the weird messages she’s been getting, and the talent show from last night and—girl, you gotta stop. This campus security officer isn’t about to build a conspiracy wall with you.
Riley highlights Brian Huntley as a suspect, but somehow also talks about Landon.
The campus security officer is most skeptical. “So you think this Brian guy abducted your friends and has them in his basement…but you think this guy you just met has nothing to do with it?”
Is the script making fun of itself at this point?
Somehow, campus security officer decides to follow up on this. He drives with Riley to the DKO fraternity. Knock, knock! Any captive sorority sisters in there?
After knocking and waiting 15 seconds with no answer, the officer declares, “No one’s home.” And he leaves. I love how he’s go-getter enough to trek out to the frat house, but not enough to actually investigate anything.
Riley sticks around, creeping up to one of the windows of the DKO house. She calls Helena’s phone.
Now this is a massive frat house made of stone. Even if Helena’s phone is in there, no fucking way would it be right by the window and loud enough for Riley to hear it.
The ringtone goes off, Riley faintly hearing it through the glass.
This stupid movie….
Before Riley can investigate further, she is startled by Prof. Gelson. In her startle, she knocks some papers out of his hand. She stoops to gather the papers and sees that he’s made a list of all the campus’ sororities and the girls in them. Oh I hope that ain’t the Naughty or Nice list….
Riley claims that she totally wasn’t snooping but was looking for something she lost at the frat house last night during the talent show. Good news, as a former member, Prof. Gelson knows where a spare key to the house is hidden.
Gelson proceeds to fumble with his keys to have a drawn out conversation about the “prank” at the talent show last night. He points out that posting a video of the show online was a bad idea.
Riley freezes. Somehow, she hasn’t connected the dots that the performance could potentially be recorded and put on the Internet. In 2019.
Gelson reveals that not only does the video have over 30,000 views already, but Kris was the one who uploaded it.
Freaking out, Riley runs off.
Back at the Milwaukee Sorority house, Jesse is raving over her ham. Not the ham! Also, Smoosh is in a corner being a douche for no reason.
Somehow, the conversation turns to the sorority sisters praising ants. Yeah. Ants. Marty points out that ants are a unit, and unkillable because they’re all an extension of themselves. …ants. Ants are what we’re going to use as a rallying symbol? That’s the choice we’re making, movie?
Riley bursts in, very understandably upset.
“You posted the video from last night online?!” she demands of Kris.
Kris, with a sickening level of casualness, replies, “Yeah. Why, is it getting views?”
Riley pours out how everything is piling up on her, including the creepy DMs and Professor Gelson having seen the video. Marty reveals that she’s also getting creepy DMs. Kris only cares that Gelson is now involved. She’s gearing up like she can hear the Pokémon battle theme in her head. Arguing continues.
Smoosh decides to speak up with “what-about-isms” like an asshole cousin jumping into your Facebook comments out of nowhere. “Why are you allowed to say all this shit about men? If men had done a show like that at the talent show…” etc. He literally “not all men”s his way into getting kicked out of the house.
Jesse, choosing to avoid the arguing, goes up into the house to get more decorations…from the attic. Uh oh.
She eventually finds a stash of lights, but keeps finding that the strings are dead. I guess that’s foreshadowing.
When she finally finds a live string and the lights illuminate, they reveal a lurking Cloaked Figure who attacks her.
Back on the first floor, Marty, Kris, and Riley are getting DMs from Calvin Hawthorne. The messages read, “Bring you to your knees. You will beg for mercy.”
Say it with me: ‘Hey, don’t threaten me with a good time!’
Kris texts back, “Bite my ass.”
In response, arrows are shot at them.
Arrows? Yes. You read that right. A Cloaked Figure emerges from a corridor with an actual bow and arrow, shooting at the girls.
“Bro, do you even crossbow?
Marty is hit in the leg. The girls fun. They don’t go to a bedroom or bathroom with a locked door. Instead, they choose to hide in a fucking broom closet. Great.
Marty is hurt, and they don’t have their cellphones to call for help.
“I knew Helena was dead! I knew it!” Riley says. Now is not the time for “I told you so”s, Riley.
The girls, supposedly hiding for their very lives, aren’t being quiet at all. I thought everyone under age 25 had been thoroughly drilled on “active shooter” etiquette.
It’s decided that Kris will stay with Marty, Riley will go try to find a phone. Riley breaks a wooden broomstick in half as a potential weapon and goes out.
We see a Cloaked Figure turning off some lights in the house. Not cutting the power line, just throwing switches. Yeah, you know I can just turn those back on, right?
Riley sneaks downstairs. The Cloaked Figure lurks with his Legolas gear.
Upstairs, Marty and Kris have a heart to heart. Again, all at normal volume. Why are ya’ll even hiding in the closet at this point?
Suddenly, they realize Jesse is missing.
Marty insists that they have to find Jesse. She emphasizes, “We’re ants, Kris.”
We’re mindless insect drones, Kris. Don’t you find that inspiring?
Apparently it is, as Kris goes up to the attic, leaving Marty to pant and lie prone in an unlocked closet.
Kris finds Jesse in the attic, bound with lit up Christmas lights. Kris approaches from behind, but soon realizes that there’s an axe through Jesse’s face. Again, magically bloodless.
The actress playing Kris does a fantastic job of looking horrified. Her reaction is what makes the scene. And that’s the thing: in order for death to matter in a movie, you need to sit on it long enough for the audience or other characters to have a reaction.
Back downstairs, Riley hears someone enter the house. She bumps into Smoosh the Douche. He tries to apologize for being a douche. He says he’s been getting bad headaches. Riley couldn’t care less and explains that someone’s in the house and Marty’s hurt. She needs his phone.
Smoosh replies, “Screw a phone!” He tosses his car keys to Riley. “If my girl’s hurt, it’s my duty to protect her.”
He shouts to a dark hallway, “Show yourself, coward!”
His reward for taking on the patriarchy head-on is an arrow to the face.
Cloaked Figure and Riley grapple. The Cloaked Figure is suddenly distracted by a noisy Christmas decoration. Riley takes out Smoosh’s keys, does the “keys between your fingers” trick, and stabs the Cloaked Figure in the neck.
Now you might think, finally! Blood! There is an oozing dark liquid pouring out of the dead Cloaked Figure. But it actually isn’t blood.
Can you hear the sound of Stupidtown just over the horizon? Sit tight, we’ll be getting there soon.
Kris and Marty appear, helping Riley to her feet. They all group hug. Yep. Kris, holding the hatchet that was previously in Jesse’s face, reveals that Jesse is dead. They have another group hug.
No one mourns Smoosh, but Marty does grab his phone.
Another Cloaked Figure appears. My goodness, could there be a group of Cloaked Figures doing dastardly deeds? Maybe a whole fraternity worth?
Marty grabs the hatchet and attempts to fight New Cloaked Figure. She fails and gets stabbed. Riley and Kris make a run for it into the kitchen. What happened to being ants, guys?!
On the ground, Marty still has Smoosh’s phone. She calls 911. …I think Marty dies after this? I lose track of her completely from here.
In the kitchen, Riley and Kris at first hide from the Cloaked Figure. But as they try to get away, they grab kitchen implements and stab him instead.
At campus security, the officer is alerted by a 911 dispatcher of a call from a sorority house The officer jumps into his SecurityMobile and rushes to the sorority house.
But it isn’t the Milwaukee Sorority house! It’s Delta Sig, the sorority that boycotted the DKO talent show. The officer bursts into the house to see the Delta Sig sisters fighting Cloaked Figures. The officer is stabbed by one of the Cloaked Figures.
Back at Milwaukee Sorority, Riley sensibly turns on the lights.
The girls realize that although they’ve stabbed these Cloaked Figures brutally…they aren’t covered in blood. They’re covered in the same black tar that Riley saw used in the DKO induction ritual earlier.
Oh, I can see the shiny lights of Stupidtown in the distance!
Riley removes a mask from one of the dead Cloaked Figures. It’s a DKO frat brother, the dark mark of induction still on his forehead. He looks a little like a zombie. Maybe because he was just double stabbed to death.
Or we’ve just rounded the bend to the final stretch of road into Stupidtown.
Kris retrieves Smoosh’s keys from the dead Cloaked Figure that Riley stabbed. Suddenly, another Cloaked Figure appears and attacks. These guys are worse than The Trouble with Tribbles.
Riley jumps onto this Cloaked Figure, wielding a plastic bag as her weapon. She suffocates the Cloaked Figure, reenacting a classic kill from the original Black Christmas.
The girls make a run for Smoosh’s car, Riley grabbing a pink snow shovel on the way. Naturally, it takes for fucking ever to get the car unlocked. Naturally, another Cloaked Figure with a bow and arrow emerges from the house, taking aim as the girls scramble. He slowly draws an arrow and readies a shot—even though he could just pounce on his would-be victims. They’re less than 2 yards away from him, after all.
But the girls unlock the car, they get in, the arrow just hits the door uselessly, and they get away.
As they drive away, Riley rehashes all the clues. Clues, I might add, that shouldn’t have been clues because this is leading somewhere monumentally stupid.
Kris lays out, “So you’re telling me you think the DKO boys possess their pledges in some supernatural hazing ritual?”
“Yes,” Riley answers emphatically, “Yes, that’s it exactly.”
Welcome! Welcome one and all, to Stupidtown. Population: this script.
Somehow, Riley also figures out that the bust of Calvin Hawthorne is the source of the frat’s dark power. Yes. That stupid bust I’ve been highlighting on this journey? It apparently is a magical bust.
Riley insists that they go to the DKO frat and steal the bust. Yes, we’re going to deal with all the dead bodies from today by jumping into a Buffy The Vampire Slayer-style solution.
In spite of being the person who first brought up that Calvin Hawthorne had dark powers, Kris doesn’t agree. So, Riley forces her to stop the car and gets out.
Pink snow shovel in hand, Riley walks off to take on whatever fresh hell awaits her.
It’s supposed to be badass. But the larger context of this stupid plot really ruins it.
Riley bumps into Landon again. Based on how Riley is covered in black tar and looks like shit, he can tell something is wrong. He asks how he can help.
Cut to Kris driving down the road. She passes sees the Delta Sig house, seeing it in fiery chaos. Surviving Delta Sig sorority sisters run up to her car. Another Cloaked Figure with another stupid bow and arrow is in … lukewarm pursuit.
Landon and Riley are at the DKO frat house. Using the key Gelson used earlier, Landon lets himself in. The house is empty. Landon tries to catch the attention of anyone who might be home. Several cloaked brothers approach him. Ruh roh.
While the brothers are focused on Landon, Riley sneaks in. Landon suddenly has a headache. Remember how Smoosh said he was having headaches? Well….
One of the DKO brothers explains, “That’s just the founder drawing out your true alpha.”
Good lord—was their founder Joe Rogan?
Meanwhile, Riley returns to the ceremony room and sees the bust completely unguarded. Hmm. Looks like a trap.
Suddenly, she hears Helena crying and runs to help her. She finds Helena, also unguarded but tied to a desk in a dorm room. Hmm. This also looks a bit like a trap.
Riley bends down to free Helena. A Cloaked Figure approaches from behind. Helena gives Riley an evil little smirk. It’s definitely a trap!
Riley is knocked out.
Riley wakes up tied to a chair in the ceremony room. She sees Landon being inducted into the frat with a new black tar mark.
Surrounding her are cloaked frat brothers, banging frat paddles to a rhythm and chanting.
We’re officially in a parody, right? Like this started as a movie about a sexual assault victim, but now we’re in a comedy, right?
Oh, guys, and would you believe it? Cary Elwes is here and he’s in on the whole nefarious plot.
Yes, Calvin Hawthorne—founder of the school and founder of this fraternity, really practiced the dark arts. Yes, he really hated women. Yes, he left behind instructions on how to use black magic to create an army of young men to take power back from women if they ever stepped out of line. This apparently involves using that black tar stuff to allow Calvin Hawthorne himself to possess DKO brothers. This also gives them supernatural speed and strength.
And ironically: none of this would have been found out and the power wouldn’t have been revealed if the bust had stayed in a glass case in a campus building. It was only after Kris’s petition got the bust moved to the frat house that the DKO frat could initiate its nefarious plot.
And so goes on this monologue about how yes, men must use dark magic rise up because they are tired of being marginalized and belittled by women. “Upon graduation our army will go into courthouses, boardrooms, the halls of Congress…”
Are you getting the analogy yet audience? Do we need to lay it on any thicker?
So. Let’s pause here. Yes, this whole thing is stupid. But I feel a need to break down how deep the stupidity goes.
If the premise is: these brothers are possessed by dark powers, doesn’t that take away their accountability entirely? They look like zombies and bleed black tar instead of blood. That’s not someone in control of their faculties.
Why not just have the DKO fraternity be some kind of Red Pill cult? Why not just have their beliefs and rage drive them—why bring in the supernatural element at all? It undermines any substantive analogy you might want to draw out of this movie.
Oh also, Helena’s here because she’s gone all Handmaid’s Tale and is all in on the nefarious MRA/Red Pill/Alpha Male nefarious plot. See, obedient women will be spared from…bows and arrows, I guess. Others will be dealt with. Since the Delta Sig sorority boycotted the DKO talent show, they had to go. The MKE sisters were also black listed for their performance at the talent show. Well do you want us at the talent show or not, guys? Make up your mind.
But even though Kris was a major instigator of things like trying to get Gelson fired, decrying Calvin Hawthorne, etc, somehow this whole scene is focused on Riley.
Um, why is Riley alive? Isn’t she on that kill list? Why bother with all this exposition?
Riley’s attacker, Brian, is of course also here. He thinks Riley can be convinced to be obedient. Um…Riley straight up killed some of ya’ll. This seems like a risky move that will end up with all of you dead.
But no, they actually untie Riley to “give her a chance.”
So now, a Super Cloaked Figure enters the room. Not joking. The doors open and basically it’s just a larger, mildly more menacing cloaked figure. I think this is supposed to somehow be Calvin Hawthorne…but it’s really vague and not that scary.
Riley is instructed to bow to Super Cloaked Figure. She does not. Que Surprise!
Welp, naturally, now they must show Riley their true power!
This awesome display of power is… Super Cloaked Figure snapping Helena’s neck. Well, that was the one “obedient” woman you guys could find on the whole campus. You kill her just to maybe convince this girl who killed at least two of your brothers to switch sides?
Again: why are we going through this rigamarole? I don’t mean to tell bad guys how to do their thing. But. If women matter so little to this cult, then Riley is immediately disposable. There is no reason to hold onto her or to go through this whole thing.
Seeing an opportunity to grab a weapon, Riley feigns obedience and drops to her knees.
Brian crows triumphantly, “Who’s the king!”
…well, the Super Cloaked Figure who snaps necks. Or Cary Elwes and his epic accent. But not you. Definitely not you, Brian.
Grabbing her chosen improvised weapon (a comb), Riley leaps up and attacks. …she manages only to scratch Brian. The best she can threaten from there is, “Someone someday will find out about this and tell everyone.”
….that’s the best you’ve got, Riley? Really?
Super Cloaked Figure begins choking Riley. Why spend a bunch of time on choking when you can snap necks, my dude? It’s all just so inefficient.
Suddenly, Super Cloaked Figure is hit with an arrow. Cut to the door, where Kris and the surviving Delta Sig sisters stand with weapons. The cavalry has arrived!
A big fight scene happens. I wish I could appreciate it. But the detour to Stupidtown makes it hard to engage with. This includes the stupidity of: you’d think Super Cloaked Figure would be the boss fight, but that first arrow took him out completely.
Riley grapples Brian and defeats him. I don’t think she kills him, but just disables him. Yeah, that’s satisfying.
Next she goes to smash the bust. Gelson tries to talk Riley out of smashing the evil bust. Of course this doesn’t work. The bust is smashed to pieces.
Riley is knocked to the ground in the fighting, and Landon helps Riley up. Apparently because the bust was smashed, Landon is free of its control and is a good guy now.
…so wouldn’t that be true for all of the other possessed brothers? Shouldn’t all the fighting stop now because the bust was destroyed and the bust was so important?
Nope, the boys are still the bad guys. …which in the film’s own stupid context, doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, Kris sets Professor Gelson on fire with a torch, which is pretty cool. This results in a raging inferno building up in the ceremony room.
The sorority sisters escape, along with Landon. They bar the doors, the only exit closed. They leave the other frat brothers to burn to death.
To which I say again: wait, but aren’t at least some of those guys innocent now? Are we not going to take a second to absorb the horrific ethical and moral implications afoot?
Nope, we sure aren’t!
So yeah, our heroes walk outside and watch the frat house burn.
Riley watches the flames with a mix of horror and determination. She exchanges a nod with Landon. They’re cool now. ‘Cause he’s one of the good ones.
I don’t quite have words, ya’ll. There’s so many complex ways this film and this script suck.
For example, there seems to be an underlying message that women need to be like men in order to defeat them. Example: our 4 final girls have gender neutral / traditionally masculine names (Riley, Kris, Marty, Jesse) and the traitor has a feminine name (Helena).
Also the ANTS. Remember that stupid side discussion about how awesome ants are? We first see ants on Professor Gelson’s desk. The girls are encouraged to emulate an animal first associated with a male villain.
Writer / director Sophia Tarkal said of this film, “I wanted to make a movie where instead of feeling objectified or watched from a distance, the audience felt seen.”
As a woman who loves horror, I don’t see myself in this movie at all. And I think that’s a good thing.
Like this article? Like this blog? Show Why I Love Horror some love!
A small donation, just enough for a cup of coffee, is a little gesture that means a lot!
Your donation helps pay for this site’s domain. Plus, it’s a great thank you to Your Intrepid Host, the sole content creator for the blog!