CHILLING REVIEWS: Black Friday (2021)

The month-long gap between Thanksgiving and Christmastime is a peculiar period for Western civilization. Young people are finishing a semester, term, or quarter of schooling, and adults are saving up what money they can gather for the holidays. Is there anything to look forward to after Christmas other than New Year’s? In the world of horror, how often do we get terrifying monster films set in this season? The answer is not a lot, and when we do get something of that nature, most of the time, they are not actually well-received. 

Not too long ago, Black Friday premiered, available to stream across the Internet. With a runtime of 84 minutes, the film is a horror comedy written by Andy Greskoviak and directed by Casey Tebo. It is also executive produced by Graskoviak and Devon Sawa, while Bruce Campbell and Warner Davis serve as producers. Interestingly enough, Fall Out Boy lead vocalist Patrick Stump scores the musical composition.

Black Friday has the looks to be an installment in Blumhouse and Hulu’s horror television anthology, Into the Dark. However, thanks to Brandon Henry Rodriguez’s casting, it happens to be its own thing. Tebo’s horror movie roster brings in familiar faces from the genre: Ivana Baquero (Pan’s Labyrinth), Ryan Lee (Super 8, Goosebumps), Devon Sawa (Casper, Idle Hands, Final Destination, Chucky), and Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead franchise), as well as an appearance by Michael Jai White, who has also come from works with horror elements. With an ensemble like this, I would have hoped for a runtime close to two hours.

Sawa and White are very much themselves in this movie, while Lee has changed significantly since I last saw him, which was in Goosebumps. What really gets me is Campbell’s role and performance. He is not as heroic as his character in The Evil Dead franchise, but he is not necessarily antagonistic either. His character’s choices are due to his appeal to what the corporation believes he should do, and it isn’t until the end of the movie that you think, “Ah, yes. Here is the Campbell we might be familiar with.”

As a horror movie, its atmosphere is akin to that of Stephen King’s The Mist, although as a horror-comedy, I find it vastly greater than Stan Helsing, which…I’ll save you the trouble by telling you not to watch that holiday horror movie. Rather, I do feel as if the film is on a type of wavelength that matches Rodriguez’s action horror From Dusk Till Dawn and Milott and Murnion’s horror comedy Cooties, two films that try to find their place within the zombie subgenre. Black Friday itself is an attempt at examining its namesake, “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, with nearly the same intentions as those two films, albeit with extraterrestrial elements. The movie possesses references to other horror films such as Curse of Chucky, Godzilla, and just maybe, Attack on Titan.

Tebo’s film follows a group of working class individuals coming into work at a children’s toy store, We Love Toys, a branch of what seems to be many others under one corporation. An alien meteorite crashes through the ceilings and infects a number of customers and some employees who flood the store. While the visual effects make the movie beyond strange, I have to admire the special effects that we get with the alien-zombie figures. However, a longer explanation behind those creatures would definitely be needed. 

The store’s manager Jonathan (Campbell) tells his employees that they should refer to the holiday as “Green Friday ‘like Christmas and money’” since their corporate overlords believe “Black Friday” is racist. It’s similar to how Hollywood wanted to make changes to television series such as replacing the voice of Cleveland Brown on Fox’s Family Guy or removing the first Dungeons and Dragons episode of NBC’s Community from Netflix because Ken Jeong cosplayed as a dark elf/drow and yet some people had the notion that he was in blackface. In this aspect, Hollywood is missing the bigger picture, and Black Friday addresses that issue. Corporations aren’t tackling racism properly. In order to make a better response, industries need to take larger action and actually make a difference for the nation. If anything, this conception of a “Green Friday” still gives in to Western ideals and practices related to religion and capitalism.

Furthermore, Black Friday scrutinizes the treatment of the working class and the control at the hands of corporate figures. In the film, the employees are terrified of the creatures surrounding them, however they do wound up being more angry that their manager refuses to give out Christmas bonuses and instead chooses to lay off some workers during the holiday season. This balance of trials and trepidations leads to the final boss of the film: the alien monster taking the form of the toy store’s customers in a collective, and this is where Godzilla and Attack on Titan come in. This monster is a representation of “the industry” comprising the corporation, its workers, and the consumers that are attracted to the laborers. Indeed, the writers do intend to make this pun come true when the monster nearly swallows one character driving a forklift.

The purpose of this film is evident. It does not aim to be something worthy of an Oscar or a Fangoria Award. Instead, the point that it makes is to perceive every holiday as something that the bourgeois class gains more than the working class. If it hasn’t been stressed enough to you, then now you know. Corporations want not just you, but your hard-earned money as well, and they do not care how strenuous the work was to obtain it. I think that’s where the real horror of Black Friday lies. The employees of We Love Toys are faced with their anxieties of slaving away to the corporation that has made a schedule for them and put their names into records. Additionally, it is almost as if to say that the corporation does not care what your age, race, or sexuality is; you can either be a complete loser or the Employee of the Month. So long as you have something to contribute to them, nothing else matters to the business owners. While the aesthetics make this a B-movie, there is truly something within the plot worth considering, that is, your time and efforts.

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John Tangalin

John Tangalin (he/him) is a collector of trade paperback graphic novels and a learner of theory. In the mid-2000s, the 1990 It miniseries, the original Toxic Avenger, and Final Destination got him into horror, with Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Scream later solidifying this in his teenage years. While attending graduate school at the University of Guam, he is studying posthumanism in technology such as masks and digital devices.

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