2.5 out of 5 stars

Michael Kennedy, the writer of Freaky (2020), and director Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls), team up for this campy and bloody holiday slasher genre mash-up, a retelling of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). With modest aspirations to entertain horror fans coming down from Halloween, this horror-comedy mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do.

Set in the fictional small town of Angel Falls, It’s a Wonderful Knife efficiently establishes its Final Girl-turned-George Bailey stand-in over the first 20-minutes. Winnie Caruthers (Jane Widdop) and her family watch the town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony presided over by resident corrupt corporate type Henry Waters (Justin Long in a spray tan, blonde wig, coloured contacts, and blinding veneers). Waters then tears Winnie’s father (Joel McHale) away from the Yuletide fun to strong-arm the last homeowner standing in the way of his ritzy development.

The homeowner in question is the grandfather of Winnie’s best friend Cara Evans (Hanna Huggins), both of whom are swiftly murdered by white-cloaked killer ‘The Angel’. After witnessing a murder at the high school party they’re attending, Winnie manages to save her brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard) from a similar fate and kill The Angel, unmasking him as Henry Waters. Cut to a year later, where Angel Falls and the Carruthers family seem to have moved on from the bloodshed of the year prior, except for a traumatised and depressed Winnie.

And so, after a night of heartbreak and disappointment, Winnie wishes she’d never been born. The town’s aurora borealis grants her wish, transporting her to an alternate timeline where she didn’t exist and therefore couldn’t stop the killer. So in order to regain her old life, Winnie must team up with town outcast Bernie (Jess McLeod) to kill The Angel again.

Without a strong foundation to support its hooky premise, It’s a Wonderful Knife fails to break the mould of either genre it inhabits, and its underdeveloped characters fail to engage on an emotional level. Additionally, the predictable scares and obvious killer (with a contrived “twist”) do little to hold tension or create stakes.

Strong supporting performances elevate the two-dimensional material, especially Jess McLeod’s nuanced portrayal of pariah Bernie. McLeod brings pathos to their role, convincingly navigating the far-fetched plot elements through Bernie’s desperate longing for friendship. Their chemistry with Widdop is also believable, making their tender teen love the most compelling aspect of the movie.

Long gleefully chews the scenery as the villain, savouring every moment of screen time with a deliciously hard-to-place accent and a zestful maliciousness. McHale also delivers a restrained and nuanced performance as the grieving father, despite being given relatively little material to work with. Unfortunately, lead actor Jane Widdop fails to bring much depth to Winnie beyond a general sense of wide-eyed terror and confusion. To be fair, even Jimmy Stewart spent most of It’s a Wonderful Life stumbling around in a similar state of bewilderment.

It’s a Wonderful Knife’s modest production budget gives it a Hallmark Channel aesthetic, which enhances the campy sensibility of a self-aware film that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. The cinematography and production design are unremarkable, but nothing outright detracts from the viewing experience. Thankfully, the sound design is cranked up several notches and makes the kills feel especially gruesome.

The film features a notable amount of queer representation, with the majority of the main cast identifying as LGBTQ+. This is a significant achievement, as both the horror and holiday genres are notoriously heteronormative. The filmmakers deserve praise for offering queer audiences a reprieve from this exclusion. Even Winnie’s golden boy older brother, Jimmy, is openly gay in the alt-universe. A star football player and all-around popular kid, Jimmy’s sexuality is one of the least far-fetched aspects of the story.

The film also features genuinely funny moments, such as when Winnie enters the alt-reality version of the high school Christmas party, the source of her pain. She discovers that a world without her in it finds many of her classmates smoking crack cocaine to deal with the trauma of living in a town plagued by a mass murderer. May we all be such a positive influence on our friends!

It’s hard to criticise a film that doesn’t aim to be ambitious or original for failing to achieve either of those goals. And there’s a certain superficial pleasure in enjoying a movie that prioritises fun over quality. No one expects or even wants a Hallmark-level movie to win an Academy Award, and it wouldn’t be fair to say that It’s a Wonderful Knife even tries to be as good as the classic film it rips off and shreds.

The film achieves a cosy atmosphere by being just good enough to elicit chuckles and eye-rolls over its more self-aware moments and meta references. This makes it a somewhat relaxing experience to watch, but it doesn’t stand out as an achievement on its own merits. While I can’t exactly recommend It’s a Wonderful Knife as a horror-comedy or Christmas movie, it knows what it is and who it’s for. If you’re looking for a dash of holiday cheer with a dose of bloodshed and some campy small-town fun during this liminal time between Halloween and Christmas, it’ll likely be worth the price of admission.


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Cast & Crew

director: Tyler MacIntyre.
writer: Michael Kennedy.
starring: Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, William B. Davis & Justin Long.