Thanksgiving (dir. Eli Roth)

By: Adam Freed

Thanksgiving has long been overlooked as a holiday by way of cinematic representation.   Yes, John Candy and Steve Martin ring turkey day in fine form via Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) but beyond the nearly forty year old John Hughes comedy, bookend holidays Halloween and Christmas have received the lion’s share of Hollywood attention.  Enter Eli Roth, the writer and director who in 2007 attached a faux horror preview for Thanksgiving to Quentin Tarantino’s celebration of campy cinema, Grindhouse.  After marinating for sixteen years, Roth’s short film, Thanksgiving, has matured into a full length holiday slasher delight of the same name.

Credit Eli Roth (Hostel) for knowing exactly who he is as a filmmaker, and for resisting the extrinsic pressures to mute his manic and gruesome slasher to entice a softer rating.  Mr. Roth instead, takes full advantage of his opportunity to celebrate the November holiday with a self congratulatory second helping of stylized violence and gore.  Set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the scene of the original Thanksgiving, Roth allows for an endearing level of Massachusetts stereotypes to establish the knowing campiness he has set out to achieve.  There is a lovable level of self deprecation that allows audiences to feel one with the joke, rather than to feel ostracized by it.  Thanksgiving sets a welcoming table with a cast of friends both old and new.  Recently crowned “Sexiest Man Alive” Patrick Dempsey (Enchanted, Grey’s Anatomy) is a welcome addition, never betraying the silliness of the proceedings through his portrayal of local Sheriff Eric Newloff.   Adding to the cast of familiar faces are Rick Hoffman (Suits) and Gina Gershon (P.S. I Love You) who craft performances that reassure they comprehend Eli Roth’s tonal intention. Campy horror only works as a team endeavor, and rounding out Roth’s squad is a convincing Gen Z cast that earns positive comparison to the teen horror ensemble I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).

Thanksgiving is gory and sadistic, but never in a way that audiences could mistake its brutality with reality.  It is certainly not intended for children or young teens, but for willing adults looking for a fun early holiday experience, they can do a lot worse than Eli Roth’s take on turkey day.  In the height of award season releases clamoring for Oscar glory, it is delightfully refreshing to celebrate a filmmaker willing to honor a genre of film in such a steadfast manner.  Cynics may view Roth’s work as a glorification of gore or worse, an attempt to capitalize by besmirching the pristine nature of the holiday’s traditions.  Thanksgiving knows what it is, and what it hopes to deliver.  If Thanksgiving Day is intended to be a time to pause and celebrate with one another, to willfully engage in rituals of shared unification, then Eli Roth has certainly succeeded in bringing people together for the holidays.  

Target Score: 7.5/10 - Thanksgiving is a masterclass in remaining true to one’s vision.  Eli Roth knows exactly how to craft a gory ninety minutes of mayhem that never takes itself any more seriously than needed.  Amongst intended audience circles, Eli Roth’s latest work may be whispered into the realms of camp classic.