(2021) Horror Comedy (Screen Media) Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero, Ryan Lee, Stephen Peck, Michael Jai White, Bruce Campbell, Louie Kurtzman, Celeste Oliva, Ellen Colton, Peg Holzemer, Mark Steger, Andria Blackman, Mike Murphy, Chris Siepietowski, Stanley Bruno, Lonnie Farmer, Stephen O’Neil Martin, Ripley Thiebeault, Matea Thiebeault, Bates Wilder, Cindy Lentol. Directed by Casey Tebo
With all the holiday-themed horror movies that are out there, it was inevitable that one would be made for the holiest, most sacred day of the year – Black Friday. Yes, the day that retail giants pray for finally gets a horror film of its own.
It’s Thanksgiving and the employees of All Toys, a big box toy store – are there really any of those left? – are preparing to start their shifts to open the store at midnight for Black Friday. Ken Bates (Sawa) is a dad undergoing a divorce, bitter that he gives half of his already-meagre check to his soon-to-be-ex-wife and never gets to see his daughter. He compensates by drinking on the job, which began as a stopgap measure when he got laid off and still ten years later, there he is, and having a brief fling with Marnie (Baquero), who realizes she deserves better. Then there’s Chris (Lee), a germophobic young man who sees Ken as a cautionary tale and is already looking to find a path out of a dead-end retail job. There’s Archie (White), an older man making a little extra cash on the side; Emmett (Kurtzman), a brand-new employee still learning the ropes, and Ruth (Colton), a retiree.
On the management side is Brian (Peck), the floor manager who loves to flex what little power he possesses, particularly in regards to the hapless Chris, and Jonathan (Campbell), the genial, wants everyone to like him, manager who is as ineffectual as he is awkward. The employees gird their loins for what promises to be another sucky day at the store.
But their day is about to become suckier. An alien parasite has crash-landed in the store and has begun infecting hapless customers and a few of the employees, turning them into maniacal, violent zombies who infect other humans by dropping what appears to be a mouthful of snot onto their victims. The gross factor is reasonably high.
The zombies also possess something of a hive mind, and they’re up to something, something that doesn’t bode well for the remaining humans gathered in an employees-only section of the store. With the world going nuts all around them, they need to band together, overcome their differences and show those customers who’s boss.
Horror comedies are fiendishly hard to pull off; often they come off soft on the horror, or soft on the comedy. Fortunately, Black Friday manages to avoid that fate, although the humor does have a Dad joke vibe at times. Writer Andy Greskoviak appears to be making a comedy on unhinged consumerism, which seems to be de rigeur for almost any movie with the day after Thanksgiving as a setting. He doesn’t quite do it, missing opportunities to make meaningful points while going for the low-hanging fruit. While Campbell gives a speech that kind of goes down that road, it’s really the only moment that the script transcends the material.
While we’re on the subject of Bruce Campbell, can I just say that he’s still as amazing as ever? He is one of those performers that recognizes the line between underplaying and overplaying; he understands the character and gets them believable while allowing us to laugh at their foibles. He’s also a producer on the movie, and he’s really the best reason to see it. Fans of the actor shouldn’t miss his monologue late in the film; it’s one of his best.
On the other end of the spectrum is Michael Jai White. This is an actor who has made for some memorable action roles over the years, but is criminally underused. That trend continues as he is dispatched way too early, but he shines every time he has the ball. Somebody, anybody, please give this guy a leading role.
Sawa and the rest of the cast do solid work as well; there aren’t any performances that really are groan-worthy. Tebo relies heavily on practical effects and they’re appropriately gooey and disgusting. The issues with the film like largely on the technical side; the score is mighty annoying and some of the monster make-up is unremarkable.
The film’s biggest sin is the stereotyping. Brian comes off as a bitchy Joan Crawford gay man, which seems tone-deaf in 2021. Also, with the exception of Marnie, the women here are basically awful or zombie fodder and even Marnie doesn’t really have much in the way of characterization. I don’t think horror movies necessarily need to be woke, but avoiding tired cliches about various groups would seem to be a better idea than playing to them. Otherwise, the movie isn’t too bad and might even grow on you as it did me. Bruce Campbell’s fans should definitely find a way to check this out sooner rather than later.
REASONS TO SEE: The cast is solid and the movie grows on you.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many stereotypes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, profanity and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers used a closed store in Massachusetts that had been formerly a Babies R Us retail outlet.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Willy’s Wonderland
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
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