The Best Christmas Movie

I rarely see horror movies. I don’t like to be scared just for the sake of being scared and I’m not fond of watching people run from monsters and die meaningless deaths.

But my favorite movie of the year by far is the 2019 remake of the horror movie Black Christmas, directed by Sophia Takal, written by her and April Wolfe, and starring Imogen Potts and Aleyse Shannon in the key roles. And I say that after a week in which I saw three movies, including both the obvious one and one that has received many rave reviews.*

Black Christmas is the feminist movie I’ve been looking for. It’s not just that it obliterates the need for the Bechdel test by being a movie in which women talk to each other about all kinds of things, it also gives us ordinary young women with dealing with a terrible situation all by themselves.

No superheroes here. Just regular people realizing they, too, can fight evil. (Also no superhero battle scenes, thank all that’s holy. I cannot tell you how tired I am of overwrought CGI battle scenes.)

Might be some spoilers in here, so if you’re planning to see it and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now.

This movie has been criticized for being overtly feminist. Since that’s the only reason I saw it (after reading this piece about it, which also includes some spoilers) I don’t see that as a negative. Given that most women have been thrilled by the occasional glimpse of powerful women in movies, I suspect there are a lot of people besides me waiting to see something like this.

Apparently the critics also think it wasn’t faithful enough to its predecessors. I haven’t seen those movies and am unlikely to do so, since the set up of this one plus that criticism and the fact that it’s labeled a “slasher” film give me a very good idea about what happens in them (lots of young women die in nasty ways).

Further, people are upset that it got a PG-13 rating instead of an R like its predecessor. I assume that’s because it’s not gory and doesn’t lovingly photograph dead women, also a plus.

In this film, members of a fraternity decide to target women, focusing on members of one sorority in particular but also attacking others. The frat boys are apparently inspired/possessed by some kind of magical force brought on by the bust of the college’s founder and do a ritual that makes them even more misogynist than they were to begin with.

There’s a professor who has been compared by several reviewers to that Canadian guy who has an online following. Certainly he teaches a class that promotes misogynistic thinking and uses a quote from Camille Paglia to support his views — a reminder that one doesn’t have to be male to be misogynist.

One of the main characters is Riley (Imogen Poots), who was raped by the former president of the fraternity and got no assistance from the police. That former president has come back for a holiday with his brothers.

The other is Kris (Aleyse Shannon), a feminist activist who is doing a petition against the professor and previously got the bust of the founder removed from a public place (though that may have been what caused the frat to become possessed by his evil, since they ended up with it).

Riley and Kris and two others of their sisters do a skit at a showcase in which they accuse the frat guys of rape. But the killings have already started before then.

In one of the early scenes, a woman is being stalked and puts her keys between her fingers, ready to fight. That key motif is repeated later in the film, when all hell has broken loose and the boys are attacking the women in their house. Kris (I think) stabs one of the attackers in the neck with her keys.

In the end, the women are successful at saving themselves (a call to campus security just gets the cop killed). And they do it by forming a group that comes to rescue Riley and fighting together against the guys.

They don’t fight like superheroes or like the stars of martial arts movies. They just fight however they can with whatever they can bring to hand. Yes, some of the women die; this is a war. But a whole lot of them survive, and they do it because they fight and support each other.

One of the other criticisms of the movie is that the men are possessed by this evil substance (or something) from the founder, who may have dabbled in the black arts. Some have suggested it wasn’t necessary, that men deciding to punish women for daring to criticize them would have been enough.

But I think it was an excellent metaphor for toxic masculinity. What the frat guys are doing even has some effect on the two good men in the movie, though both are able to shake it off.

Obviously I like the feminist take, but I also think it’s a good movie. I was sucked in from the beginning, and while I noticed things like the key motif, my inner critic kept her mouth shut. When I don’t make critical or caustic comments to myself while watching a movie, that’s a sign that it’s done it’s basic job of sucking me in.

I’m sure this will be out soon on streaming, if it’s already gone from theaters. Highly recommended.

*Star Wars was fun as long as you don’t mind the complete annihilation of the laws of physics. I’m always down for good defeating evil. Knives Out showed how great actors can do over-the-top without being annoying and was very well-constructed. Neither sucked me into their world completely.

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The Best Christmas Movie — 15 Comments

  1. Will you be seeing this year’s Little Women film adaption? I ask because I would be curious to read what you thought of it.

    I am torn about seeing it myself, as the hype around it has been an assault, almost, it’s so enormous. But that might excused considering it, as well as other highly received films made by women, have been so ignored by certain film awards groups. On the other hand I know ALL of Alcott’s works by heart, having begun reading them at age 9, and thereafter re-read them constantly, and I’ve hated every of the many film adaptations made as never understanding the books and leaving out the important elements. Also, why always must it be LITTLE WOMEN that is adapted? Especially now, if women in the arts and work vs. marriage in a men’s world is such important theme, They Say, this film adaptation brought out, when An Old Fashioned Girl and even Jo’s Boys, explores these so much more overtly and thoroughly?

    • I do plan to see it, because I think Greta Gerwig is an interesting director and I want to see her take on the book. And I’m sure they’re doing Little Women because it’s the iconic title and no one would fund the others. It might make more sense, because bringing in the women and arts and marriage issue using the best known work would draw in more people. Also I assume it got snubbed because it was about women, not just by a woman director.

  2. I would love to see An Old Fashioned Girl adapted for film… but it doesn’t have the name recognition, alas.

    I’m curious to see Little Women, not least because I’m brewing a post about remakes vs. reimagining, and I want to see where Gerwig’s version comes down on that scale.

    • This one from today’s NY Times made me resolve to see it as soon as possible. I note that I have never seen a screen adaptation of Little Women. Do you suppose the earlier ones drew this kind of male response or is this reaction only due to the fact that Gerwig is pointing out the feminist connection?

      • Men — and a whole lot of women — have always dismissed Alcott as the “pap for young children” that Alcott herself characterized much of her work as being. Though when the book was initially published adult men — and women — loved it madly, and it was they who made it a best seller. “Columnists” of the day described scenes on Boston’s trolleys of men on the way to their law offices and other big wig city employment avidly devouring the book, held in one hand, while brolly and etc. were precariously balanced in other hand and arm.

        This mad love for Little Women as a feminist text has been manufactured pretty much out of a very slick PR machine. In just about every circle previously the book was dismissed as sentimental, religious and dull by women. The men never heard of it.These are the same women who dismissed The Handmaid’s Tale when it came out (and Margaret Atwood the writer) as Paranoid in Tin Foil — it can’t happen here! not now! not in this day and age! — and not sf. But then it’s a hit on tv and suddenly they all forgot that they had even actively dissed it. But, by the time it hit tv it was actually happening here, and only has gotten more critical for women since then too.

        That the film would be dismissed right now is par for the course for women in the film industry, especially when in a cycle in which WOMEN are mattering and are speaking up again. I’ve watched this go down before, in the age of Thelma and Louise, Boyz ‘n the Hood, and Daughters of the Dust, hearing male film people muttering on NPR about how relieved they were that “all women and blacks” getting all the attention was over and they could return to being the masters of the film universe — without apologizing.

        The pushback to the industry’s #MeToo cycle cannot be underestimated among rank and file and those who make up the juries and judges.

        Part of this current stream is caused though by the dreadful Marriage Story of Noah Baumbach’s — which played at the prestige art theater here, The IFC! Little Women didn’t play there … this is the delight of the critics for reasons I cannot fathom. It’s as though nobody ever did a film about a marriage and divorce before, as if Kramer vs. Kramer and War of the Roses never happened, not to mention a list of others. This is THE DOMESTIC FILM with the bestest writing, acting, directing blahblahblah, and men love it without feeling girly because, you know, a MAN made it, directed it,and a REAL MAN, Adam Driver, acted in it, we know Adam Driver’s are real man because hey he’s in sf comix franchise flix — and so is Scarlet Johanson. And it has all the power of the Netflix money to promote the shyte out of it, as does The Irishman — and we can see it on Netflix streaming too.

        But the really odd thing about all this is — Baumbach and Gerwig are partners!

        https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/noah-baumbach-greta-gerwig-marriage-story-director-roundtable-1264219

        And both have done relentless, constant promo of their films this year. But it’s Marriage Story that is getting the awards noms, not Little Women.

        • Black Christmas is getting a similar kind of anti-feminist reaction from critics and from whoever the people are who rate things on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s “too feminist” and it’s “not failthful enough to the original” (a slasher flick in which I assume only one, rather virginal, woman survives) and it didn’t get an R rating so it’s clearly not gory enough for true horror fans.

          I have to say, given the movie and the reactions, I’m surprised it got made. That, at least, is a bright spot, though it’s possible that the money people didn’t realize how anti-misogynist it would be. Might be the same with Little Women. Remakes always sound safe, I guess.

          I have no desire to see Marriage Story. Or The Irishman for that matter. I started reading science fiction back in the day because I was bored to death of stories about divorce (especially since at the time I handled a lot of divorces) and I cannot believe Scorsese is still wasting his talent on mob movies.

          I don’t have your deep familiarity with Alcott’s work and I would not ordinarily go to see Little Women since the previous movies didn’t sound very good to me. But I liked Lady Bird and am curious about Gerwig’s take. I might be inclined to re-read the book while I’m at it.

          BTW, my objection to The Handmaid’s Tale is the passivity of the main character (which apparently is different in the TV series). We seem to veer back and forth between “it can’t happen here” and “oh woe is me” stories about misogyny. I’d like to see a lot more stories in which we’re fighting tooth and nail against these people. And winning. We need to believe we can win.

  3. And I have now seen Little Women and it is an exquisite movie. It’s the perfect adaptation of a book into a movie — the non-linear storytelling allows the viewer to get the essence of the characters’ different experiences without going through them step by step. It will be a crime if this movie does not at least win an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

    • I haven’t see it yet, as it’s in theaters, and NYC is packed out with hordes of people who don’t live here, and I don’t want to be squeezed into a theater seat due to health concerns. Also mad busy preparing for a month out of the country and with friends visiting from out of town — see NYC and the mad hordes from Elsewhere!

      I’ll see it sometime because I see all the LW adaptations, but I’m sure I’ll hate it. For pete’s sake, a young, handsome, sexy Professor? — I’ve seen the trailers and had a bad reaction.

      • Granted about the young handsome professor, but in context in the movie it’s pretty clear that he’s fictional. Watch it for the structure; it’s really an amazing adaptation of novel to screen, something that I think is almost never done well. (I don’t think I could sit through a typical linear version.)

  4. But that’s the point — that isn’t the novel, that’s Gerwig. There is nothing in the novel that is meta to the writing life in this manner. In the novel Jo is very happy to, very much wants to marry the cuddly older, stout, carelessly dressed German professor. Also look at this within the context of the following two March novels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. One couldn’t have Little Men without this particular character. I am angry and resentful that Gerwig changed this — it’s as pernicious a change as another screen adaptation in which BETH DOES NOT DIE. It’s a crime committed against the author and the book.

    If she had made a film called Louisa this might fly, but not in a film proudly titled Little Women.

    It’s the same arrogance that men have committed forever against what women have created, and she boasts of it. Feh.

    • I’m in strong disagreement on a couple of levels. First of all, on the personal level, I’m pretty sure that even when I read the book as a little kid, I didn’t want Jo to marry anyone. I wanted the independent Jo finding her place in the world. I know I feel that way now. And I don’t have much emotional attachment to the sequels, possibly because she’s married. That is, I so craved stories in which women got to do something besides fall in love and either be ruined or get married. I still do.

      But also: Little Women is such a cultural touchstone in our lives that re-imagining of it is important, even if those making the movie or revising the story get it wrong. I’m reminded of my interpretation of something Robin McKinley (I think) said about Robin Hood: The version you get reflects the times in which it is written. I wouldn’t bother to go see a straightforward re-telling of Little Women. (I’ve never seen any of the other ones.) I notice in talking to others about it that several people — all of them women who are readers — told me they’d never read it, though they know the story well. I think stories that have wormed their way into our consciousness that way are ripe for re-interpretation.

      That doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with the reinterpretation. I would be as horrified as you about a version in which Beth doesn’t die. I just don’t see the point in making a movie about a 150-year-old book that is integrated into our culture without re-interpreting it.

      That said, I agree with you that they should have cast a much older and less handsome actor as the professor. Gerwig missed the important point that by having Jo marry someone considered inappropriate Alcott was subverting the love story as well. (Though one could argue that marrying an immigrant with few prospects is more transgressive than marrying a much older man, given that women marrying older men is still very acceptable these days.)

  5. I disagree still, whole heartedly. I was not sorry. And the more times one re-reads the book, at different stages of one’s own life and experiences, the more one rejoices that Jo was so wise to choose as she did. This is particularly so in light of the subsequent stories, which honestly cannot be dismissed as having no bearing on the readings of LW. There is nothing in Louisa May Alcott’s novel that is meta to the writing life and career in this manner. In the novel Jo is very happy to, very much wants to marry the cuddly older, stout, perpetually rumpled German professor, who is much more rounded out, naturally, in a novel titled Little Men. A writer from and of the multi-chambered heart, she’s much too wise a writer to create a fake relationship for her characters.

    As well, just like Old Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, the focus on what it means to be female, a girl, a woman, married, not married, gets even stronger, even if the focus is no longer on Jo herself, and on her younger relatives and other girls she nurtures. Though there is a terrific section in Jo’s Boys, in which she treats with that purely LMA mixture of exasperation and comedy, the utter trials of being a best-selling writer of popular literature.

  6. Well, I’ve actually seen it due to good amiga who is a voting member of the Academy, who has screener privilege and wanted to watch this one with me because she’s never read the book, and has known for years of my love and admiration for LMA.

    Like the prof, Jo is far too conventionally attractive.

    No wonder Gerwig boasts of her fangirl service, “There. I fixed that marriage for ya.” Dusts hands. The End.

    Shame.