Just in time for the holidays, Roth and writer Jeff Rendell unleash a great bit of horror and comedy with the opening of “Thanksgiving,” which depicts a Black Friday sale (on Thursday night, naturally) with a body count. In the film’s first display of expert timing for shock and laugh-out-loud awe, Roth ratchets up the tension as a feverish, volatile mob bursts into the Right Mart department store as if needing rations for the apocalypse. “Thanksgiving” then delivers one brutal satiric beat after another as everyone battles for stuff, reminding us of what the “black” in “Black Friday” really amounts to, as blood splatters and people die painfully for the cause of free waffle irons.
A year later, a killer with the mask of first Plymouth, Massachusetts governor John Carver starts terrorizing the town, targeting those who were part of the tragedy: the high schoolers who snuck in through the employee entrance like Jessica (Nell Verlaque), Gabby (Addison Rae), Yulia (Jenna Warren) and Scuba (Gabriel Davenport); the owner (Rick Hoffman) and his wife Kathleen (Karen Cliche); and customers whose heinous acts were caught on security camera footage that was suddenly deleted. The killer’s murders are investigated by the local sheriff (Patrick Dempsey), but it’s Jessica, the store owner’s daughter, who starts piecing together what’s been happening while she and her friends receive cryptic Instagram notifications from the killer and images of a table that has been set. Some suspects include her boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), who vanished after his baseball dreams were ruined by a gnarly injury during that fateful Black Friday sale, and Ryan (Milo Manheim), who swooped in on Jessica after Bobby left.
For such a big cast of characters, “Thanksgiving” is wonderfully efficient with establishing its potential future victims, giving you just enough to care about them, and not losing the potent relatability of its opening sequence. Rendell’s script (a “2023 reboot” of the trailer,) has some great jokes about high schoolers being dopey social media users or stubborn children, sometimes simply just to lead any sleuths astray. But it doesn’t reduce them to simply being blood bags, which makes the terror wrought on them more intimate. Like with Wes Craven’s “Scream,” there’s some lightness to people like Jessica and her friends, goofy as they can be, and that makes this movie’s Ghostface all the more charismatic. The John Carver killer is a clever instrument for cold-blooded, giddy violence, and that face of colonialism and misbegotten tradition is freaky just enough.