Though the mystery is solved a quick ten minutes into the film, this, of course, doesn’t spell the end for the Angel killer or Winnie’s problems.
It’s difficult to think of a story more copied than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but somehow, someway, screenwriter Michael Kennedy finds a distinct spin. A year after the murders, the picturesque Carruthers family led by David (Joel McHale) is the gem of the town; meanwhile, their daughter Winnie is still spiraling in grief. Overlooked by her family, rejected from college, and mourning the death of her best friend, Winnie wishes to the glowing Northern Lights that she was never born. That desire, however, brings back the killer and alters the face of the town.
There are other obvious references to the Frank Capra classic, but it wouldn’t be fair to this film’s ingenuity to enumerate them. MacIntyre plays with and subverts expectations. When the murderer returns, for instance, we think we have a slight window into the future, like with Capra’s melodrama. But this script is smart enough to upend things for an unexpected twist that isn’t confined to the need for suspense but arises from sturdy character development, too.
That isn’t to say the teen slasher aspect takes a back seat. Lately, there’s been a return of the genre: Just this year, there’s been “Totally Killer,” “Perpetrator,” and “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.” In its brisk 87 minutes, “It’s a Wonderful Knife” economically carves up the milieu of these young cliques and relationships. The characters who appear—jocks, mean girls, and outsiders like Bernie (Jess McLeod)—aren’t an arrangement of tropes but real humans with real interior lives. Long is a fantastic villain, pulling his best Walter Goggins impression, while the slasher design of an opaque white plastic mask is an inspired choice. It must also be said the foley artists have so much fun, particularly with the frazzled crunch and crackle of the electrocution scene. The jump scares, admittedly, don’t pop as much as you’d like. But if you’re trying to keep that pure Capra idealism, you almost don’t want the scares to be too visceral.
If there are any other shortcomings, it’s Winnie. Despite Widdop’s best efforts, Winnie is caught between being George Bailey and Nancy Drew, a cipher that bounces from scene to scene, set piece to set piece, without conjuring up any unique attributes. Still, Widdop displays a necessary wide-eyed curiosity and urgency to keep you engaged.
Even by the film’s end, when MacIntyre is unabashedly on the nose, the reference points do not invite cynical eye rolls. His sincerity, which takes a turn into being a queer love story, walks adjacent to a saccharine line without tripping over. “It’s A Wonderful Knife” has plenty of attributes—charm, blood, and angst—that should fit right in at any family holiday gathering.
Now playing in theaters.