Film review – Thanksgiving (2023)

The film has a compelling story, good performances and the requisite tension and pandemonium with a whodunit element to boot. Relinquish yourself to the spirit of the thing and you are going to have fun...

Recent ominous events of both a domestic and global nature reminded The Doctor that life is fleeting and one should always enjoy God’s plentiful bounty. Therefore when Tuesday Night Cigar Club chairman Cade informed me that Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving was now available on Netflix my only thought was, why the hell not? With several airplane minis of Bulleit bourbon scattered about the sideboard, I had my Saturday evening planned.

In preparation, I went back and watched the titillating Thanksgiving “trailer” directed by Roth that was included in the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration of Grindhouse from 2007. I mean, how can you not appreciate taglines such as “It will scare the stuffing out of you” and the even more entertaining “This year…there will be no leftovers?” The 2023 release would presumably be different from the grainy Grindhouse trailer, but it certainly appeared as if some of the main elements would remain, and with the Bulleit now on ice that was good enough for The Doctor.



Welcome to historic Plymouth, Massachusetts, where at a Thanksgiving gathering we are introduced to several mostly affable characters including Sheriff Newlon (the always enjoyable Patrick Dempsey) and Amanda Collins (the still lovely Gina Gershon) among others. The scene then shifts to a Black Friday riot at the fictional big-box retailer Right Mart. What transpires is a brief but nonetheless harrowing scene of crazed mob violence that sadly does not seem farfetched. Obnoxious, insolent teenagers who park in handicapped spaces and livestream everything on their phones? Check. Grown adults seeking instant gratification with a complete lack of consideration for anyone other than themselves and generally acting like escaped zoo animals? Double check. Roth captures the narcissism and dangerous idiocy that is all too prevalent these days. The riot scene serves as a background for everything to come, and maybe that is all Roth meant for it to be… but I have my doubts. He seems like an intelligent director to me and the riot scene, in my opinion, acts as a potent indictment.

The ageless Patrick Dempsey as Sheriff Newlon, helpless to stop hordes of self-centered “shoppers” bent on getting what they want

We jump ahead one year as another Thanksgiving approaches and it’s clear that not everyone has managed to move on from the riot and its aftermath. No criminal charges were filed, mostly due to the fact that the Right Mart security camera footage was surreptitiously deleted. Various smart phones, however, captured multiple angles of assholes creating carnage just in case someone wants to mete out justice. And mete it out they shall! The slasher’s identity remains concealed behind a cardboard mask of John Carver, one of the original Mayflower voyagers in 1620. Add in a buckled pilgrim hat, also ubiquitous in the town of Plymouth during late November, and our killer could be just about anybody. This is an interesting variation employed in certain slasher entries, two of the most notable being Scream and My Bloody Valentine, and it’s not always easy to pull off. When dealing with any of the classic stalwarts such as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees there is no risk of getting bogged down in whodunit minutiae. However, when the script and the direction are up to the task, as they are in Thanksgiving thanks to Roth and cowriter Jeff Wendell, the whodunit dimension only provides further suspense and, dare I say it, fun to the proceedings. Will you suspect the former professional baseball prospect who was maimed during the riot and then disappeared for a year? The former Right Mart manager whose wife was killed by deranged idiots shopping desperately for a low priced waffle iron? The new taciturn town deputy? Or perhaps someone far less obvious? You know I won’t tell…

“John Carver” ponders the early spring training box scores.

Roth is also well schooled at delivering inventive kills and he sets them up in true slasher film fashion. Thanksgiving takes its time – then again, any good Thanksgiving usually does – but the best of these films are adept at cooking up tension alongside the turkey. Fans of Roth’s previous forays into horror who are looking for characteristic gore will not be disappointed. Few punches are pulled with regard to pain, suffering and bloodletting. It all appears handmade, however, and The Doctor will always heap praise on flicks where the effects departments have seemingly created everything the old fashioned way. That is how real movies are made, and I don’t express that feeling simply because the bourbon is making me maudlin. Or maybe it is. Time to move on.

That’s not Grandma’s Thanksgiving ham in the oven…

The aptly named John Carver makes no attempt whatsoever to hide the results of his gruesome work, so the Plymouth gentry are more than aware of the mayhem afoot. Some viewers may not care for the slow burns between kills or a few of the overcooked (bad pun intended) New England accents, but since our setting is Plymouth it fits contextually. I thought all of the acting performances were good, not only from veterans like Dempsey, Gershon, Rick Hoffman and Ty Olson, but also from the lovely Nell Verlaque as the young heroine and the other supporting actors portraying either teenagers or local townspeople. The running time of Thanksgiving clocks in at 107 minutes and perhaps that is 10 minutes or so too long for traditional movies of this ilk, but that is just bitching. Thanksgiving has a compelling story, good performances and the requisite tension and pandemonium with a whodunit element to boot. Relinquish yourself to the spirit of the thing and you are going to have fun.

Which brings me to a final note on Eli Roth. I think he deserves credit for his overall body of work and should appropriately be thought of as an interesting and talented filmmaker. While I’ve always been lukewarm on Hostel and Cabin Fever and had no inclination to watch The Green Inferno after hearing about it, I thoroughly enjoyed Roth’s Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis. Cade and myself also both enjoyed The House With a Clock In Its Walls with Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. That these films cover a swath of genres is a testament to Roth’s ability as a director. And I think Thanksgiving is a winner. As always, my friends, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health.

Beyond The Pod

The Doctor attended The Poughkeepsie Institute of Technical Science or, as it is colloquially referred to, The Pits. His thesis paper "It's Far to Early to Tell" has been used in classrooms as an example of how NOT to formulate a medical science theory. The Doctor was previously employed in Mallorca, Spain as a master of ceremonies and first aid provider at local wine tastings before joining the Tuesday Night Cigar Club.