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Black Friday (15)
Director: Casey Tebo
Screenplay: Andy Greskoviak
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero, Ryan Lee
Review: David Stephens
Ash is back in the S-Mart! Well, no, not really. This B-movie nostalgia trip sees big-chinned cult fave Bruce Campbell back in the retail business, but he's the boss this time. Actually, regional manager of a chain store. And he's got a moustache. Black Friday is an uber-wacky horror comedy film written by Andy Greskoviak and directed by Casey Tebo, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker who's worked with Seth Green and … err… his buddy Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Along with Bruce, the cast includes a smorgasbord of well-known genre faces, including Devon Sawa (Final Destination, Chucky), Michael Jai White (Spawn), and Ivana Baquero (Pan's Labyrinth, The Shannara Chronicles). It's nothing to do with any comics, plays, or other projects with the same name. Filmed in Boston back in Winter 2020, it's already played the festival circuits (including Fantastic Fest and Grimmfest) and had a limited release in the US and a few other countries (during the appropriate season in 2021). Now the UK can see it on VOD… in February… nice timing, guys.
We're in pure exploitation territory here as America undergoes some "meteor mayhem" and objects plummet into the atmosphere. Only, these aren't rocks. One fleshy pod zings through the roof of a store's roof just as folks are queuing up for Black Friday bargains. It turns one unfortunate employee into some kind of mutated zombie …. thing. After that, we join up with the employees of the "We Love Toys" emporium. Amongst the crew is a cool dad and bitter ex-husband Ken (Sawa), nerdy Chris (Ryan Lee from "Super 8"), and snarky Marnie (Baquero). They're all dreading the BF sales kick-off, missing Thanksgiving lunch, and pissed off with the speaker-voice of their boss Jonathan (Campbell). But as soon as the shoppers enter the store, some start behaving badly… even more so than usual. They're attacking workers and sicking up organic gunk in aisle three. Then it starts to get a lot worse and a lot more bloody…
You might think you know where this is going. Zombie Black Friday shoppers creating havoc in a Toys R Us rip-off store. Well, yes and no. There probably is a good zombie comedy-horror to be made from that premise, but this isn't it. Oddly enough, the narrative mostly avoids the obvious cliches that could be made from the scenario, and that's not necessarily a good thing. For a start, the budget shows and the screaming masses associated with BF mayhem are distilled down to a few dozen people at any one time. Also, we're in a toy shop, and despite some obvious product placement, the toys are never used as weapons in the fight scenes. All we get are glow-sticks and neon plushies that are used for lighting and an ineffectual escape on roller skates! What gives? The nearest we get to a commercial satire is the fictional "Dour Dennis" (seriously!), a depressed teddy bear that moans about his crappy life and isn't the least bit amusing. Otherwise, it's the type of film where nail guns are used in a way that won't work in real life.
We get unsurprisingly accurate (but not really funny) observations that corporate chain stores are only interested in profits and that most managers are dicks to their staff. Hardly sophisticated humour. The only time when the plot shows a bit of grit and depth with the characters is the "home truths" sequence, when they all reveal how they really feel about their job and each other. Admittedly Sawa and the always watchable Campbell add a bit of class here, even though the script doesn't give them much to work with. Still, it's fun watching Sawa arse about on a skateboard, Campbell being Anti-Ash, Jai White talking trash, and Baquero being an ass-kicker again after the cancelled "Shannara".
Rather than rage-zombies (again), the mutated shoppers gradually turn into "Demons"/"Deadite"-type creatures that infect others and grab them with disgusting white tendrils from their gob. Rather than being cannibalistic flesh-eaters as well, they have (literal) alien behaviour that leads to a ridiculous-but-fun ending that raises the game quite a bit and makes up for some of the previous shortcomings. This leads to a couple of fun practical creature designs that look pretty cool and features work from makeup and special effects maestro Robert Kurtzman, who first worked with Campbell way back on Evil Dead II. Although they never really reach their full potential, it's fun seeing an actor bring the "Granma" creature to life and the "New Guy" mutant get whaled-upon. These moments are disappointingly brief and few in number, though.
All in all, it feels like a homage to 80s creature features more than anything else. There are riffs on Night of the Creeps, The Thing, Evil Dead (of course), not to mention King Kong, Godzilla, and even Cloverfield. This makes it a fine-but-inconsequential experience that you'll soon forget that you've actually watched. The lack of ambition and innovation kind of sinks the experience somewhat. "Blacker Saturday" is highly unlikely.