Directed and co-written by modern horror maven Eli Roth, Thanksgiving is a contemporary slasher throwback based on his fake trailer from Grindhouse (2007). One year after a Black Friday riot that resulted in multiple fatalities, the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts is preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving when a mysterious masked killer begins butchering people involved in the altercation the year prior. Now Jessica Wright (Nell Verlaque), her ex-boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), and Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) have to unmask the slasher before Jessica, her friends, and her wealthy father (Rick Hoffman) end up carved.
When the film Thanksgiving finally began pre-production, the horror world was instantly buzzing about it, given the cult popularity of the fake trailer from 16 years ago. People wondered how closely it would follow it in tone or story, whether or not every scene in it would be recreated, and whether or not it would still be interesting or relevant. Eli Roth has usually been hit-or-miss, but when the first real trailer for Thanksgiving premiered, it looked very promising. And lo and behold, it’s f*cking great! It’s a slight departure from the original fake trailer, but that’s largely a good thing, and I’ll explain why. That trailer from Grindhouse was meant to look like the movie was actually from the 80’s, and it was a good bit sleazier and more mean-spirited. The Thanksgiving we got in 2023 is a much more refined, modern throwback, and it succeeds in evoking early 80’s slashers while also having a contemporary edge that helps far more than it hinders. Eli Roth’s Achilles heel has always been his screenwriting, and while his directing is pretty consistently solid, his dialogue and characters tend to be abrasive to a point that it can make or break his movies for a lot of audiences. I’ll admit that, while I like more of his work than I don’t, I do get a little annoyed at just how obnoxious his writing can be. In Thanksgiving, however, Roth collaborated on the story with writer (and childhood friend) Jeff Rendell, and he let Rendell take the lead on the script. This allowed Roth to avoid his most common pitfall and resulted in more enjoyable dialogue and engaging characters. Speaking of which…
Thanksgiving isn’t exactly a character-driven film, but part of what makes it exceptional is that it does have characters that are both interesting and well-acted. Nell Verlaque is a great example of a type of character that a lesser slasher would leave fairly empty, but she brings some life and color to the classic final girl archetype. Even when the film goes through the standard final girl motions with things like love triangles and troubled home lives, it never loses your interest. On that note, Rick Hoffman plays Jessica’s father, and his character has a surprising arc. He starts off as the typical slimy business mogul you’d expect in a movie like this, but he actually learns and grows over the course of the film, thanks to a couple of very nice character moments. Patrick Dempsey is no doubt the biggest name here, and he’s having a blast. While the movie never takes itself too seriously, it wouldn’t work if the actors weren’t playing it stone-faced, and Dempsey is acting his heart out, and he remains as charming and (dare I say?) dreamy as ever. There’s also several characters you just can’t wait to see die, but they aren’t obnoxious enough to make the movie unpleasant. They’re just the right amount of hateable, and the acting is generally solid.
One thing Eli Roth has always been good at is delivering effective kills, and Thanksgiving’s got some glorious ones. I really can’t stress enough how good the gore is here, because it’s not just that there’s plenty of it. It’s used strategically for various purposes. Sometimes it will be hilarious, sometimes it will be cathartic, and oftentimes, it’s genuinely shocking. The special effects team did a damn good job on these, because the viscera onscreen is gnarly, and we do get lots. Another thing that the movie really succeeds at is the humor. While I wouldn’t call Thanksgiving an outright horror-comedy, it is an incredibly funny movie. The Massachusetts setting lends itself to a lot of great regional humor, and the snappy dialogue succeeds in endearing us to the characters we’re meant to like and encourage us to cheer the demise of those we aren’t.
Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is his best film to date, and it’s an absolute treat for slasher fans. Featuring a talented cast, plenty of laughs, and some landmark kills, this is a gruesome feast that’s sure to become a holiday tradition for gorehounds. Dig in!
About the Creator
I’m an actor and director of stage and screen. But I also dabble in standup, and on this site, horror movie criticism. I’m just a guy who loves horror movies, and I like to share that love with the world.