Rating: 4 out of 5.

The new-wave slasher renaissance of the late 2010s blazes on year after year, with more audiences becoming enamored with horror’s arguably most beloved subgenre. 2023 has been host to several slasher instant-classics, including Scream VI, Totally Killer, The Conference, and Sick. It’s a Wonderful Knife, penned by Michael Kennedy (Freaky, upcoming Time Cut) and directed by Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls, Good Boy), blends queer yuletide cheer with gory mayhem in the most magical of ways. This unique feature feels destined for regular holiday rotation, lorded over by an iconic all-white killer outfit splattered with blood. Nothing says Christmas quite like stylish Giallo-eseque slayings or a violent, angelic murderer!

Welcome to the quaint small town of Angel Falls, where generations of locals seem to be booking it. Spray-tanned Henry Waters (Justin Long, Jeepers Creepers, Barbarian) is desperate to rush construction on the newest Waters Corp. creation, Water’s Cove, and will push out anyone, no matter the cost. Before flashing us forward a full year, Kennedy’s sharp script immediately thrusts us into the action. The two teens of the Carruthers family, Winnie (Jane Widdop) and Jimmy (Aiden Howard), are caught in the crosshair of the unhinged massacre of psychopath The Angel. Chase scenes and violent murders unfold, accompanied by a creative score utilizing Christmasey tunes. A relentless attack ends with Winnie saving the day, courtesy of spark plugs. In a true buck to slasher norms, within the first fifteen minutes, we already know the identity of The Angel.

For Winnie, Christmas of 2023 has gone from bad to worse. The loss of close friends in The Angel’s massacre takes its toll on Winnie in just about every way imaginable. The Caruthers have benefitted greatly from the tragedy, helping to re-forge the community, and further thriving with a successful family realty company. The death and decay of the previous year has been swept under the rug. After being gifted a “lesbian track suit” whilst her brother receives a brand new car, Winnie has had it, officially. In the grand tradition of holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, Winnie makes a wish under a constellation that she had never been born.

The snow isn’t always whiter on the other side. The second Winnie arrives in this newfangled reality, trouble is afoot. Nobody remembers who she is. Angel Falls as she once knew it is a ghost of itself, riddled with crack dens, graffiti, and trashcan bonfires. The Angel is on the prowl, killing folks at will, free of consequences. Without Winnie there to stop his rampage, it never ended. As a huge fan of all things alternate reality, It’s a Wonderful Knife appealed to me in premise alone. As it progresses deeper into this angle of the plot, enriching the world of Winnie and friends, this quirky slasher never shakes its Hallmark cheesiness. While for some, that may seem like a dig, the right audience will adore Kennedy’s clever blend of horror and comedy.

Following Winnie as she attempts to make sense of this new reality is a total blast. Awkward outsider Bernie (Jess McLeod) ends up being a vital key to helping Winnie return the status quo. A will-they-won’t-they romance quietly blossoms organically from their friendship. Another interesting angle emerges with Winnie’s family (Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, Erin Boyes), and what has become of them in this alternate reality. As Aunt Gale Prescott, Isabelle is a clear standout—her scream queen status having been rightfully earned in such gems as Ginger Snaps and Freddy vs. Jason, it’s a true treat to find her orbiting the center of a modern slasher movie. How apt that she appears named after two of Scream‘s final girls. Justin Long plays the dastardly villain of the tale, nearly stealing the show as its unlikely MVP. One aspect of his character’s storyline almost completely did not work for me, but none of the minor flaws are a deal breaker whatsoever.

Screenwriter Michael Kennedy once described 2020’s Freaky as a celebration of queer horror, and how wonderful to see It’s a Wonderful Knife following along its footsteps in the snow. Several gay and lesbian relationships take root in the film, and its central romance is aptly adorable for a Christmas movie. The spirit of the holiday is captured well, splashed with the gore of elevated horror kills orchestrated more eloquently than expected. An indie horror gem overflowing with Christmas spirit, It’s a Wonderful Knife seamlessly delivers empathetic character work and disturbing horror thrills in equal measure.

Slash your way through the holidays when It’s a Wonderful Knife debuts exclusively to theaters on Friday, November 10th.

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