With the new version of Black Christmas, directed and co-written (with April Wolfe) by Sophia Takal, I believe we have crossed an exciting new threshhold: the first classic slasher movie to receive a second remake. The first Black Christmas, from 1974, is one of the most unassailable classics of '70s horror, beating both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween to the punch in laying out the formula that would define the genre for the whole of the 1980s. Plus, it wasn't attached to any particular studio, nor was its reputation built on a specific character or actor. All of which made it a perfect candidate for the big horror remake cycle of the mid-'00s, which is when Glen Morgan wrote and directed a 2006 film also titled Black Christmas, possessing the same setting as the '74 film (a sorority house right before Christmas break) and not much else.

Here we are, anyway, in another remake cycle - one even more craven and mercenary than we had a decade ago - and here we are with a third Black Christmas, which has even less to do with the original film than the '06 version did. There are some in-jokes, and the original "call is coming from inside the house" angle has been freshened up for 2019 with mysterious anonymous text messages, and it's still right before winter vacation, but now it doesn't even mostly take place at a sorority house. Though there is at least an extended setpiece involving a killer stalking around the first floor of the sorority Mu Kappa Epsilon for a good ten minutes or so.

The film wants, very badly, to be The Slasher Film We Need Right Now: it's a story about sexual violence and toxic masculinity, and the need for women to band together in order to stand against those things. Like most movies that desperately want to wedge themselves into an ongoing cultural dialogue, it's pretty fucking terrible at it. Black Christmas does not have characters, doesn't even really have mouthpieces except in one case: it has props to hang signposts around. The main one of these is Riley (Imogen Poots), who was sexually assaulted some while back by a member of the Delta Kappa Omicron fraternity, and after finding nobody but her best friends were willing to listen to her, she's decided to keep her head down and just try to get through the rest of college as anonymously as possible. This sits ill with her dear friend Kris (Aleyse Shannon), a fiery activist who exists mostly for the film to be able to have a caricatured ultraleftist to poke fun at, when it wants to let off some of the message movie pressure; it's through Kris's encouragement that Riley takes part in a public naming-and-shaming of the "Dekes", and it's also through Kris's machinations that a video of that event goes online and immediately goes viral. This, unsurprisingly, makes the frat boys good and pissed off, and the appearance of shadowy hooded figures poking around following the MKE sisters seems to be directly related to the men's desire for revenge.

"Seems to be", because this is actually not the first time that we've seen those shadowy figures; in the pre-title sequence, one has already stalked and killed another young woman. Also, "seems to be", but not clearly enough for the characters to pick up on it; the discovery that the Dekes have something to do with menacing the main characters comes about an hour into the film, and is apparently meant to be as shocking to us as it is to them, despite there being literally no other assumption that the basic rules of narrative causality would allow us to make. The script mostly hews to formula, but when it goes wrong, it goes wrong all the way: weak links in story logic, no scene transitions to speak of, no personality for the characters at all except for "quiet one" and "loud one", and then the two completely friends who are just there because four makes a more balanced set. And of course, the dialogue, which is excruciating: these are not humans who speak, they are rhetorical figurines who expound.

Worst of all, from a writing perspective anyway, is the mind-melting shift the film makes in its last third; it's a keen example of a movie that has gotten so invested in its metaphor about systemic male power that it has permitted that metaphor to knock the legs out from under the drama, while failing to notice that the metaphor doesn't even land the satiric point the movie was gunning for. If this wants to be a film about quotidian male privilege and violence, it surely doesn't make sense to have it also be about a mind-controlling warlock cult, right?

Anyway, the writing is a huge chore to get through, but after that, Black Christmas isn't really anything but a particularly squeaky-clean PG-13 slasher movie, with the moments where there should be blood standing out conspicuously in Jeff Betancourt's slapdash editing. The official line is that this was to encourage more teenagers to see the movie and benefit from its message of women's solidarity in the face of oppression, which obviously didn't work out at all (even given Blumhouse's legendary control over budgets and marketing, Black Christmas is going to end up underperforming at the box office). And that's as it should be. Teen girls have been sneaking into violent slasher movies as long as violent slasher movies have existed; teens also know when they're being pandered to, and this is a mortifyingly pandering movie.

As I was saying, though, no blood; definitely no scares, and given the shifts the film makes to the traditional slasher third act, not really even any suspense or tension. It has a bit of decent atmosphere; cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard relies on red and green lighting to add the requisite Christmas touch (this is a far more Chritmassy film than the '74 Black Christmas, and somewhat less Christmassy than the '06 version), while also giving a gloss of the uncanny to the sets. It's not exactly horror atmosphere, but it's strange enough to stand out as mysterious and pregnant with danger. And that's something; for that matter, so is Poots's performance, which is more ambivalent and sad than the script was pointing to. Lord knows any slasher fan has seen worse films than this - far worse films. But is still lifeless and flat at best, a boring harangue at worst, and the tweaks to the slasher formula aren't enough to disguise the fact that this is a chaste, bloodless version of a story for which bloodiness is generally the only actual justification. It's got no personality and no heart, and if I'm going to have to cope with a didactic message movie, it had better have at least one of those.