Eli Roth has been working to bridge the gap between mainstream cinema and its grittier fringes for a long time. He has managed to bring low-budget genres such as splatter horror, shameless erotic thrillers, and mondo films (which showcase third-world depravity) to your local movie theater. He literally did this with his contribution to the 2007 film Grindhouse, a double feature curated by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to pay homage to the sleazy films of the past. The movie featured retro scratches and fake trailers for non-existent upcoming films. One of these trailers was directed by Roth, and it advertised a low-quality slasher movie set in Plymouth during the annual Turkey Day parade. The tagline was “White meat. Dark meat. All will be carved,” accompanied by a voiceover that playfully mocked the genre.
Roth takes a risk by turning his short Thanksgiving joke into a full-length feature film, but it becomes tiresome much sooner than expected, as seen in his previous attempts with Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun. The retro elements are removed, reflecting the modern setting of Instagram live streams and land acknowledgments. And while the film maintains an R rating, some changes were necessary; a graphic scene from the trailer has been relocated to a more appropriate body part, and a nude human corpse with stuffing coming out of its pelvic area is now clothed. However, Roth stays true to the twisted fun of classic exploitation films, serving up a satisfying and unapologetically gory experience. Forget about the talk of turkey, this is a bloody feast of pure entertainment: no fillers or additives needed.
Unfortunately for those attempting to replicate his methods, there is no replacement for Roth’s skill as a master of tension and humor. This serves as a solid foundation for his twisted games, much to the dismay of DIY enthusiasts. The gripping opening scene sets the tone, with a palpable sense of dread building up and ultimately exploding as frenzied Black Friday shoppers storm a Walmart knockoff, resulting in three deaths amidst the chaos. This cleverly inverts the classic mall invasion trope from “Dawn of the Dead,” with the zombies now replaced by consumers. It serves as a not-so-subtle commentary on the distorted consumerism that has overtaken a holiday originally rooted in America’s dark history of genocide, as one character points out. Roth portrays the crowd as rabid rioters, similar to those seen after a major sports event in Boston – showcasing his talent for capturing the essence of Massachusetts and its people. However, he also makes a point to linger on a “Doorbuster Sale” sign, reminding viewers of the role businesses play in fueling and profiting from such behavior. In previous films like “Hostel,” Roth dehumanized human life by turning it into a soulless commodity at an auction. In this film, however, he takes it one step further by showcasing how human lives are reduced to mere dollars and cents, as evidenced by a banner advertising a 50% off sale – forming a macabre pun with a woman’s bisected body.
Roth’s writing style is focused on clever and impactful moments, which adds excitement and satisfaction to the numerous killings while also making the connections between them more engaging. One year after the mass murder, the killer – dressed as the governor of Plymouth colony, John Carver, in a seasonal Michael Myers-esque fashion – begins targeting those who were seen in a viral video taken on the night of the massacre. His victims include Jessica (Nell Verlaque), the daughter of the store owner, and her friends, including social media influencer Addison Rae, who is compared to “Paris Hilton in House of Wax” but without a bloody ending. Despite the efforts of the local sheriff (played by Maine native Patrick Dempsey, who drops his Rs like lobster traps into the icy Atlantic), each member of the community falls victim to the horrific dinner party where decapitation, disembowelment, and forced cannibalism are on the menu. As with any good meal, timing is crucial, and there is no slow pacing or overly serious themes to take away from the entertainment. Even a side story about two boys vying for Jessica’s affection adds humor by poking fun at its own irrelevance.
The table’s depiction reflects the previous twisted portrayal of wholesome Americana seen in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” with its focus on family and togetherness now turned into something perverse and filled with anger. While Roth’s references may not be obscure, he has earned the right to use them through his unwavering dedication to horror for the sake of horror. In a time where many horror movies try to tackle deep psychological issues, Roth embraces the genre’s more primal and taboo pleasures. What else is there to be grateful for?
The film “Thanksgiving” will be released in theaters in the UK and US on November 17th.