Reviewed by: Julie Lynn Hayes
Black Christmas (2019) – Hawthorne College is going on Christmas break, and all the students are
preparing to leave for the holidays, including the Mu Epsilon sorority. The ladies of the sorority take their sisterhood very seriously, and are especially protective of one of their number, Riley (Imogen Poots). Three years before, Riley was drugged and attacked by a member of a campus fraternity. Despite naming her attacker, nothing was done to him, and Riley’s veracity was questioned, leading her to doubt herself and never put herself forward. Three years have passed since then. The sorority sisters plan a little revenge in the form of a musical number they perform for some of the college students, which accuses the frat of condoning what happened. Needless to say, the boys aren’t happy.
Hawthorne College is not particularly forward in its thinking, and evidence of this can be found in the form of Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes), who teaches the Classics. Just listen to him speak for a few minutes, and you can see that he is the type of chauvinist women have been fighting against for years, with his men first attitude. There is a petition being circulated to have him fired, which the boys are not happy about, and neither is the Prof.
The sorority sisters begin to receive strange text messages, allegedly from the account of the university’s founder, Calvin Hawthorne. Disturbing and strange messages. Then the sisters begin to disappear.
This film is a loose remake (at least I assume it’s intended that way ) of the 1974 Black Christmas, as both take place on a college campus and involve a sorority whose members are being killed. I reviewed the first version earlier, and while it was no great shakes in the horror department, it possessed a certain charm which this version lacks. The first film had some quirky, a bit off-the-wall characters, including the Laughing Policeman, and the weird House Mother. In the new version, there is no House Mother, and the police have much less presence. Although the newer Black Christmas looks better, that is deceptive. The plot is actually worse than the first one *****POSSIBLE SPOILERS***** In the first one, a killer hides in the attic and comes down to kill the girls. In this one, there is a, for lack of a better word, cult among the fraternity brothers, based around the statue of the founding father (please, don’t confuse him with the Founding Fathers), and some sort of magic involving black gunk (still don’t know what that was). Hooded figures with bow and arrows and creepy masks.
At the heart of this story is a basic man vs woman theme, in which the sorority sisters must show they are woman, hear them roar, and defeat the evil gender. If this sounds like a hokey premise for a film, trust me, it is. The only name in the cast is that of Cary Elwes (are you so hard up for money?). As soon as I realized he was in the cast, I assumed he would end up as the bad guy, especially after all the chauvinist nonsense he was spouting. The film isn’t really what I would call scary, it’s largely about Riley redeeming herself for her previous inability to have power over her attacker. It’s about getting even, and women refusing to be less than men. But as a horror film, it leaves something to be desired. I’m going to give this one two stars. My honest advice is to look for something better to watch.
Tragedy strikes on India Stoker’s 18th birthday when her beloved father Richard is killed in a freak accident, leaving India (Mia Wasikowska of Alice in Wonderland) and her mother (Nicole Kidman) behind. During the funeral, India spies a strange man, watching from a distance. Later, at the house, he introduces himself to her as her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode of A Conspiracy of Witches), come home. An uncle she was not aware she even had.
India is a solitary teen, preferring her own company to that of others. She never seems to fit in, which makes it especially hard now that she has lost the person she felt closest to. The boys at school tend to tease her, making crude sexual innuendos and nicknaming her Stroker. One boy, Whip, is better than the others, and helps her out of a difficult situation.
There is something about India’s handsome uncle that draws her to him, and he is obviously obsessed with her. He follows her constantly, looks out for her, and steps in when she needs his help. They are birds of a feather, and they are drawn together, like magnets. And yet India dislikes him at the same time, no matter how attractive he is. But when she sees her mother flirting with him, India becomes jealous. The question is is she upset that her mother can show interested in someone who isn’t her father, or is she jealous because Charlie is hitting on India’s mother?
What are the boundaries of family love?
Stoker is an interesting psychological study which explores the various relationships among the main characters. India and Charlie, India and her mother, Charlie and her mother, in particular. ****SPOILERS AHEAD*** It isn’t until the end of the film that we learn where Charlie has been, after the discovery of the letters he wrote to India for years (having never met his niece), which were hidden from her. Letters speaking of his love for her and his plans for their future together. These letters were written from the mental institution where Charlie resided for some twenty years after killing his little brother when he was a child.
The attraction between India and Charlie is definitely sexual in nature, and there is a palpable sexual tension there. When India ends up killing Whip, who tried to assault her, Charlie helps her bury the evidence, which is when India learns this is not his first rodeo. Afterward, as India showers, she masturbates to images of Charlie killing Whip.
The film is well made, and was directed by Chan-wook Park, known for his films The Handmaiden, Thirst and Oldboy. I’ve seen The Handmaiden and Oldboy, and highly recommend them. I will be watching Thirst soon. Stoker was written by Wentworth Miller, whom you might remember as an actor from Prison Break.
Altogether a lovely and dark film about a seriously dysfunctional family. I think I’ll give it 4 stars.