Review: Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’ is a damn good time

Alise Chaffins reviews Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving. 

Here’s the thing about horror comedies: they are either funny or scary, never both. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that if I’m putting on a horror comedy, it’s going to lean one way or the other. Which makes sense. Both horror and comedy rely on the element of tension and surprise to work, which makes them natural companions, but also means that a balance is hard to achieve. But somehow, against all odds, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving manages to be the horror comedy unicorn that is both scary and funny.

It is Thanksgiving in the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. As Black Friday sales are creeping ever closer to the holiday, Thomas Wright (Rick HoffmanSuitsBillions), owner of the local RightMart, decides to open on Thanksgiving. When his daughter Jessica (Nell VerlaqueBig Shot) lets her friends in early, the crowd becomes a mob, and the sale devolves into a bloody massacre. 

The opening scene foreshadows Thanksgiving

Right from the opening scene, we get a good sense of how the movie will unfold. The violence in the run on the WalMart surrogate is horrific. This was where I thought it might lean more toward horror than comedy, but there is much more movie to come, and the comedy arrives with it.

The following year, at the urging of his wife Kathleen (Karen ClicheMutant X), Thomas decides to go ahead and open the store on Thanksgiving again. But just as the plans are taking shape, the murders begin. A killer dressed as the Pilgrim John Carver begins a series of gruesome murders. Small-town Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick DempseyGrey’s Anatomy) must work with Jessica to try to figure out who is gutting, decapitating, and cooking up the residents of Plymouth. 

Eli Roth and Jeff Rendell achieve a ton of tension in the movie

Roth and co-writer Jeff Rendell never shy away from gore, leaving me peeking through my fingers on more than one occasion. But where plenty of movies in this genre can provide viscera, they seldom have any actual scares. Thanksgiving manages to build some genuine tension as we wait for the next ghastly murder. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself gripping my partner’s hand a little too tight a few times. 

As scary as the movie was, it also was plenty comedic. I was impressed because while the movie is funny, it seldom goes for easy laughs. The comedy is subtle but present throughout. I found myself snickering on multiple occasions, with full laughs several times. 

Dempsey and Hoffman’s performances sell the movie

The performances are what sell this movie. While nothing is particularly revelatory, they all gel with the tone of the script perfectly. The opening scene doesn’t work if the mob is too cartoonish, and while it rides the line of absurdity, it maintains a sense of reality that worked. Verlaque is an impressive final girl – not the scream queen one might expect, but smart and resourceful in a way that makes us root for her from the start. 

Dempsey clearly has fun throwing on a Massachusetts accent, trying to solve the mystery in the town. And Hoffman is just likable enough that when we realize that his family and those close to them are shouldering the brunt of the violence, we don’t cheer for those deaths. Honestly, all of the deaths have a sense of being justified but never something to revel in, which shows a significant amount of restraint in the writing. 

A movie with themes that work well

I also felt like the themes in the movie worked well. This could have easily fallen into “the real villain is capitalism,” and it does manage to highlight that without taking away from, you know, the villain who just slathered someone in butter and herbs and then baked them. 

Thanksgiving does have a few pacing issues through the second act, even as the carnage continues without any breaks. There are moments when the story lags, even if the mayhem never does. The teenage angst gets a little cumbersome in the second act, and the two boyfriends for Jessica’s storyline feels a little thin. 

A horror mystery that delivers

In a year when we are back to disappointing Scream sequels, I loved the horror mystery presented in Thanksgiving. Granted, the mystery felt fairly obvious as the movie progressed, but even so, I felt like the final reveal was satisfying. At the very least, it included a fiery turkey explosion, and if that isn’t satisfying, I don’t know what is. 

Despite the flaws, Thanksgiving was a damn good time. I had the opportunity to see it in a nearly full theater, and it was clear that the audience was having fun. The movie yo-yo’s expertly between barbarity and hilarity, and we were all mesmerized by the tricks. If the trick was to loop the string around someone’s neck and slice their head off, all the better. 

How to watch Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is now playing in theaters nationwide. View the trailer below:

Your thoughts on Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving

Have you watched Thanksgiving yet? Do you agree with Alise or have thoughts you want to share on the film? Join the conversation by commenting below or following us on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MoviesWeTexted.

If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out Alise’s recent review of the new movie Fingerprints. 

If you’re just in a Sony Pictures state of mind, Ben Miller has you covered with his recent review of Napoleon, the film by Ridley Scott.

And finally, if you’re looking for another holiday movie, check out our review of the new Freevee movie EXmas.