An inverted Christmas tree with as many missed opportunities as you’d find toppled ornaments, “It’s a Wonderful Knife” begins where most slashers end. Our final girl dispatches and unmasks the killer in just a cool 15 minutes before a title card announces the cutlery pun-turned-feature film in earnest. It’s then that director Tyler MacIntyre really gets to work, reimagining the black-and-white holiday classic from 1946 as a middling 2023 slasher satire doomed to fade from memory with the calendar year.
The quaint suburban town of Angel Falls was being terrorized by a demon angel, but not anymore thanks to Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop; the “Yellowjackets” actor is nonbinary, but their character is referred to with she/her pronouns in the film). Some clever repurposing of jumper cables saved Winnie’s brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard) from a near-stabbing by the Angel in an efficient opening act, but the jolt couldn’t bring back her friend Cara (Hana Huggins) who was slaughtered via winged dagger after her boyfriend (Oscar Chark) got a giant candy cane inserted into his skull mid-smooch.
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A devastated Winnie reveals the identity of the still sizzling murderer — who, by the way, is inexplicably dressed up like a “Squid Game” guard at Christmas — and it’s exactly who you think it is. A tidy set-up before that introduces the suspects: Winnie’s parents (Joel McHale, Erin Boyes), honey baked ham/moneybags mayor Henry Waters (Long), and a cast of various neighbors and classmates. Angel Falls may be a cross between between Woodsboro, Haddonfield, and a ski lodge (with cinematography and costuming eerily reminiscent of a holiday Target ad?), but it isn’t anything special.
You’d think these cookie cutter suburbanites would at least have the smarts to honor their hometown hero? No dice. Cut to a year later and, in the grand tradition of gleefully insensitive horror characters, everyone has moved on from the murders — except for Winnie. A whopping 12 months after killing a dude via automotive accessory, she’s supposedly stuck in the past, grappling with a cheating boyfriend (Jason Fernandes), his vapid new fling (Zenia Marshall), and a pointed Christmas gift disparity that reveals Jimmy to be very much Winnie’s parents’ preferred survivor.
Buckling under the weight of all that ho-ho-horse shit, the final girl wishes she’d never been born. And lo, a mysterious aurora borealis grants that wish — undoing her entire life, including her valiant battle from last Christmas, faster than you can say “James Stewart.”
“It’s a Wonderful Knife” has a relationship to Frank Capra’s original film that’s best likened to the one shared by “Happy Death Day” and “Groundhog Day.” Screenwriter Michael Kennedy doesn’t construct a perfect one-on-one homage but he’s not shy about cribbing from the seasonal staple either, replacing fake snow flurries with ice-cold LED galaxies and directly shouting out the film’s yesteryear inspiration with some moderately pleasing one-liners that at least try to evoke holiday cheer of the cinematic great. Winnie is quick to enlist the help of Bernie (Jess McLeod), explicitly calling the school weirdo her “Clarence” and using her sidekick to stop the still-ongoing Angel murders in her rapidly worsening new reality.
It’s screamingly clear Angel Falls needed its hero; all the charming potheads are suddenly smoking meth, and Winnie’s parents have gone fully off the deep end. But why this blonde-headed teen George Bailey needed to survive the same horror movie twice is never adequately explained. With a meandering plot, awkward pacing, lackluster kills, and woefully misguided suicide subplot (that is ostensibly the point of the whole flick, but presented so poorly, it’s better forgotten than focused on), “It’s a Wonderful Knife” is just the latest in a string of horror comedies making the same genre jokes Wes Craven did better in the ‘90s.
Sure, it’s an adequate addition to the seasonal subgenre with bonus points awarded for casting “Ginger Snaps” Katharine Isabelle as Winnie’s nonplussed gay aunt and letting Long do… whatever exactly it is he thinks he’s doing here. But the movie’s marketing-reinforced production ties to “Black Christmas” (2019) and “Freaky” (2020) play out more like a death sentence than a selling point — credentials reflective of an almost-there idea that can’t decide between being sincerely sinister and outrageously camp.
The candy cane skewering is the best McIntyre’s got in terms of themed gore (can someone please do something fun with jingle bells?), and even the pushiest deliveries from a cast trying their best can’t breathe life into the beats between. Still, it’s queer and contemporary — a decent addition to an already lengthy Christmas horror movie marathon that can edge out 1997’s “Jack Frost” but doesn’t come close to touching “Gremlins” or even “Krampus.”
An RLJE Films and Shudder release, “It’s a Wonderful Knife” opens in theaters on Friday, November 10.
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