THE STORY – Winnie’s life is less than wonderful one year after saving her town from a psychotic killer on Christmas Eve. When she wishes she was never born, she finds herself magically transported to a nightmarish parallel universe. With the murderous maniac now back, she must team up with a misfit to identify the culprit and get back to her own reality.
THE CAST – Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Justin Long, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle & Aiden Howard
THE TEAM – Tyler MacIntyre (Director) & Michael Kennedy (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 87 Minutes
‘Tis the season for slasher holiday films, which have become as much a Christmas tradition as candy canes and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Gone are the days when wholesome tales like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and silly family comedies such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” were all the craze during the holidays. If your movie isn’t filled with a murderous Santa Claus or a horned beast who punishes naughty children, did you even try to get into the holiday spirit?
Tyler MacIntyre’s “It’s A Wonderful Knife” is the latest entry in this niche genre that brings holiday frights and a touch of sentimentality in a neatly wrapped 87-minute film. It’s what you get when you cross a Lifetime/Hallmark Christmas movie about friendship and belonging with “Scream,” as a serial killer terrorizes a small town, and it’s up to a teenager to save them all. It might not become the next classic, but it’ll satisfy that alternative holiday movie itch among fans.
It’s Christmas Eve in Angels Falls, and the whole town is enjoying its snow-capped winter wonderland. The opening scene is reminiscent of all those holiday movies that portray the town as a perfect place where all the residents gather for a tree lighting ceremony, including high schooler Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) and her family, before heading in for a cozy night by the fire. But it’s far from a picturesque spot as Henry Waters (Justin Long), the town’s spray-tanned, big-toothed, self-centered mayor and developer, habitually ruins the day for the Carruthers by forcing David (Joel McHale), Winnie’s father, to work and try to seal a real estate deal – bah humbug!
All the teens in town, including Winnie and her brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard), head to a party to celebrate the holiday, but it quickly loses its festive spirit when a serial killer dressed in an all-white robe and mask starts massacring innocent people. Heroine Winnie manages to save the day, and all’s well in the world, right? Wrong.
One year later, she looks rough – clearly, she hasn’t been sleeping, and she hasn’t been able to move on from the traumatic episode – but everyone else acts like nothing happened (those Lifetime smiles are plastered all over people’s faces). It’s all too much for Winnie, and she wishes she’d never been born – a wish that somehow ends up coming true and transports her to a weird parallel universe where no one knows her, and the killer still looms large.
Is “It’s A Wonderful Knife” a work of art? No, but it’s fun to see this murderous take on “It’s A Wonderful Life,” in which, similarly, George Bailey doesn’t want to live his life but later sees the good he brings to everyone’s life. Winnie goes through the same process while also evading the masked killer’s deadly blows. The kills vary in intensity and entertainment – Winnie’s fatal blow to the killer in the first act is gruesome – but every splatter of red blood shows up so vividly on the murderer’s white attire that it makes your own blood curdle.
Widdop does a fine job playing the holiday scream queen, but the supporting actors are the ones who really sell the movie. Long, who takes on an obnoxious persona, is clearly relishing every moment, especially when his sinister side emerges. Winnie’s aunt Gale Prescott (Katharine Isabelle) also brings all the sass needed to make stagnant moments a little more lively, while McHale delivers multiple facets of his character, shifting from a happy-go-lucky dad to a man with no life left behind his eyes in the new universe.
Michael Kennedy’s screenplay doesn’t limit everything to slasher fun, though. There’s a sweet budding relationship between Winnie and Bernie Simon (Jess McLeod), an outcast whom everyone calls “Weirdo,” that grounds the film. The two teens, both cast aside by family and friends, team up to take on the killer, bringing them closer in several ways and adding an even more special meaning for Bernie later in the film. It’s what gives the Lifetime/Hallmark vibes to this movie without being overly cheesy or detracting from the thrills. These two girls have to put their heads together to lure the masked killer into a theater, execute a cool strobe-light flashing sequence, and fight to stay alive in order to save the entire town.
“It’s a Wonderful Knife” packs a lot into its 87-minute runtime, which ultimately leads to quick scenes and storylines that are over before you can even process them. However, the holiday slasher flick will be an enjoyable watch for all those who’d rather indulge in dark Christmas movies than the ultra feel-good, sentimental ones.