movies

"See this movie with an open mind": Imogen Poots on the psychological horror of Black Christmas.

Nothing gets you in the festive mood quite like watching a series of brutal deaths illuminated by Christmas lights.

At least, that’s the counter-programming thinking behind Black Christmas, the new holiday-themed slasher flick that’s here to give you a reprieve from irritating family members and packed shopping centres.

Black Christmas stars Imogen Poots as Riley Stone, a college student who is spending the Christmas holidays at Hawthorne College, a prestigious campus that is now eerily deserted as most of its students have headed home for the holidays.

Riley, along with a handful of her sorority sisters, has stayed behind to celebrate an “0rphans Christmas” but despite the festive snow, carols and holiday merriment in the air, the grounds of Hawthorne College soon begin to run red as, one by one, female students begin to be viciously killed by a masked figure.

At first glance, Black Christmas looks to have all the ingredients for a satisfying slasher flick but the more you delve into this story, the more you realise that writer April Wolfe and writer/director Sophia Takal have set out to subvert the horror genre by giving their story a feminist and socially conscious twist.

2019’s Black Christmas is a reimagining of a cult horror classic, so while the title may be tinged with familiarity for some movie buffs, this particular premise is not.

The original Black Christmas, which premiered in 1974, was inspired by the urban legend The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs (the origin for the ‘the call is coming from inside the house’ horror trope) and is still considered to be a trailblazing pioneer of the slasher genre.

(There was also a less critically acclaimed version of Black Christmas that was released in 2006 but it is, in a word, horrendous).

Imogen Poots as Riley Stone in Black Christmas. Source: Universal Pictures.
ADVERTISEMENT

In this version of Black Christmas, the true horror does not come just from the stabbing rampage of a masked assailant but rather from an overarching look at rape culture and the 'hysteria" women are labelled with when it comes to the reporting of sexual assault.

When we first meet Riley Stone she is walking through the world in a distracted fog but the quiet terror that she feels has little do with the mysterious murders of young women. It's due to the fact that a year ago, Riley was raped by the golden boy of a frathouse at Hawthorne College and even though she tried to report it, no one - except for a handful of her friends - believed that she was telling the truth.

In the midst of a sometimes gory and action-packed slasher film, actress Imogen Poots initially found it difficult to bring Riley to life on screen. She was in a movie with a lot to say but her character appeared to have no voice.

"Riley was very placid and there was a real paralysis to her at the beginning of the movie," Riley told Mamamia about her role in Black Christmas.

"I found it really frustrating, it felt like she was asleep, especially when the other characters around her were so vibrant and I was trapped in her. But as the story progressed I realised this is her own personal navigation of what happened to her. She’s gone through this traumatic event that has defined her.

"I really enjoyed the fact that often a traumatic event makes a movie character stronger but in this case, I appreciated the idea that this had put a pause on Riley’s life, although she does regain her voice later in the movie. There's no 'right' way to deal with this kind of trauma."

Take a look at the trailer for Black Christmas.

Imogen is well aware that many movies goers will head in to see Black Christmas expecting to see one type of movie while actually being delivered another.  So while there are definitely some more overtly bloodthirsty kill scenes sprinkled throughout the film, the actress likened it to more psychological horror films such as Rosemary's Baby and Repulsion.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It’s ok if you don’t stop and think about what you’ve seen until after the movie ends," Imogen said. "A lot of films can take things from you and deplete you whereas this film gives you a lot back. It’s also a Trojan Horse, because of the way it’s been marketed. Audiences will turn up to see a Christmas slasher and then will hopefully be pleasantly surprised by the story because it's a real subversion of the genre.

"It’s the idea of psychosis and watching someone go through that. Riley is made to feel like what's happening is all in her head and that’s part of the pandemic of rape culture. When people try to report an incident, so often they are disbelieved and seen as hysterical."

Listen to Laura Brodnik and Kee Reece talk about Black Christmas on today's episode of The Spill, Mamamia's daily entertainment podcast. 

As the bodies of young women start to pile up at Hawthorne College, and as Riley discovers that these deaths are not the work of a random serial killer, Black Christmas builds to an all-out fight of epic and bloody proportions.

In one scene, a masked assailant mercilessly pursues Riley through the sorority house and she ends up viciously fighting back with the only thing within her reach as she is thrown to the ground, a set of car keys.

As car keys are known to be the one thing women grip while walking alone at night, an everyday object that transforms into a weapon when we feel frightened or threated, I asked Imogen towards the end of our interview if this was meant to be a symbolic kill.

"It was totally intentional," she agreed. "There are many scenes throughout the movie, like the scene where my character is chomping into a banana, that were intentional in that way. It's the idea of having and destroying those phallic elements through the film. There are symbols like this, 'easter eggs' as our directors calls them, that are there to intentionally show that feminist element of the film.

"You need to go into this movie with an open mind. Then you’ll see why this film had to be made."

Black Christmas is in cinemas now, it is rated M.

Feature Image: Universal Pictures.


Sign up for our weekly "TV and Movies" newsletter. Every week, our Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik gives you a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews.


00:00 / ???