Eli Roth's Thanksgiving began life as one of the fantastic fake trailers produced for 2007's Grindhouse. But it's a little late to the feature party. Robert Rodriguez's Machete and the fan-made Hobo with a Shotgun made the leap more than a decade ago. The original short reveled in cheap shocks, paying homage to '80s slashers. But this full-length effort is ultra-slick and modern, with plenty of old-school gore.
A year after a deadly riot at a Black Friday sale killed several people, the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is still struggling to move on. While lawsuits and protests against the big box store that hosted the massacre continue, the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. A masked killer begins taunting the town - and the ultra-rich people who invoked the chaos last year - first with cryptic social media posts, then with bloody crime scenes.
Written by Jeff Rendell and Roth (who wrote the original), the film feels heavily indebted to the original Scream, as well as the more recent iterations. The characters are all archetypes, with little growth or development. But the writers are aware of this, and there's a little bit of glee in seeing the killer off the most deplorable of the townsfolk in creative ways. And in one of the film's best gags, the killer proves he's not a monster: He feeds the cat of his latest victim before leaving.
The cast, mostly made up of hot young twentysomethings, acquit themselves well enough. They're not going to win any awards, but no one's an embarrassment. Only two actors make a real impression. Patrick Dempsey, the current Sexiest Man Alive, stars as Sheriff Newlon. His affable demeanor covers up how haunted he is by the previous tragedy. But Joe Delfin steals the show as McCarty, a local dirtbag who supplies the teens with booze and unregistered guns. He's one of those guys who's pushing 30, but still living at home and hanging out at the local high school. In real life, that's sad, but here, it's hilarious.
Thanksgiving has more gore than some horror fans may be used to. Yet it knows it's absurd, and it's in on the joke. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but the film's well-executed (pun intended) thrills make it a feast.