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TROUBLE AND KNIFE

It's a Wonderful Knife (15)

Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Screenplay: Michael Kennedy

Starring: Jane Widdop, Joel McHale, Justin Long

Review: RJ Bland

The slasher has been a staple of horror ever since Norman Bates dressed up as his mother and started getting stabby with people in showers. We had some proto-slashers and Giallos to enjoy in the early 70s but it wasn’t until Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) and later John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) that the slasher movie really came into its own. The 80s is the decade that most people associate with the subgenre, mainly because we got a whole slew of them. Scream (1996) revived everything after a decade of diminishing returns but after a couple of years of glossy teen imitations, slashers went into hiding. But the last few years suggest that they are quickly coming back into fashion. A reboot of the Halloween and Scream franchises may have made most of the headlines but a distinctly new form has also taken shape; the Fantasy-comedy-slasher. Happy Death Day (2017), Freaky (2020), The Final Girls (2015) and Totally Killer (2023) are all members of this new-fangled club - and they’ve all been pretty damn good too. Combining high-concept, camp and copious amounts of blood and an undercurrent of sentimentality, they offer something a bit different from their legacy laden, meta focused slasher peers. Whilst Happy Death Day and Freaky put a horror spin on films like Groundhog Day and Freaky Friday, Shudder’s latest release It’s a Wonderful Knife takes some loose inspiration from…well, that should be obvious.

Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) is a high school student who lives in an idyllic town called Angel Falls and she seemingly has it all. A progressive (if slightly dysfunctional) family, good grades at school, a group of close friends and a handsome boyfriend. Her dreams extend beyond her hometown though, with Winnie looking to get a place at NYU. However, during a Christmas Eve party, everything changes when a masked killer known as ‘The Angel’ goes on a murderous rampage. Winnie’s best friend is offed but she manages to save her brother and neutralise the killer (who turns out to the town’s egomaniacal Mayor). A year on from the tragedy and Winnie is suffering. Her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend, and she’s been turned down by NYU. She even seems somewhat invisible to her family. Whilst glumly looking out at the aurora borealis, she wonders if everyone else would be better off if she had never been born. And just like that, her wish is granted, and Winnie is thrust into an alternative version of Angel Falls, where nobody knows who she is, including her own family. And in this world, ‘The Angel’ was never caught and has been killing someone every other week for the last year. The town seem to have accepted this macabre way of living, but Winnie is determined to set things right, with the help of Bernie (Jess McLeod) - a high school loner and the only person who will believe her story.

 

The opening ten minutes of IAWK show a lot of promise. The quirky mix of violent slasher and aloof comedy make for an interesting combination against the festive backdrop. Our lead character is interesting and likeable, which isn’t always the case with teen slashers and Justin Long’s antics (and face) are enjoyably weird. However, this first act is unfortunately where the film peaks and it’s all (largely) downhill from here. It’s a big shame because the absurd central concept had the potential for lots of fun and cheap thrills. But like an underdressed drunk dude walking across a field in a snowstorm, IAWK loses its way quickly and never finds its way home. Instead, it sort of collapses and succumbs to the crisp white freezing cold snow. Ok, that’s an odd analogy but the reality here is that compared to efforts like Freaky and Happy Death Day, this all feels a bit lame.

It all looks rather drab too. Not every teen slasher needs neon-lights and a bright glossy aesthetic (that’s getting a bit worn out now too to be honest) but Thanksgiving (2023) proved that you can make the whole wintry small-town setting feel authentic yet atmospheric. IAWK has a slightly uninspired hallmark vibe to it, which wouldn’t matter so much if the other elements came together. Alas, they don’t. There are a handful of kills but whilst they offer a welcome smattering of blood and gore, the film is almost void of build-up or tension. Wasted potential too because the look of ‘The Angel’ is rather cool. The comedy elements soon fizzle out as well, despite some initial success. Horror comedies are a juggling act between eliciting scares and laughs and IAWK drops the balls on both fronts. The result is an uneven tone and a narrative that becomes plodding and a little tiresome. Jane Widdop and Jess McLeod stop it from descending into complete tedium and their chemistry is engaging - even if the late character twist feels forced and unearned though. Justin Long chewing on the scenery every time he’s on screen never gets boring either. This might suffice for a one-off watch if you’ve exhausted all of your Christmas genre faves but we doubt it’ll be on your rewatch list for future festive seasons.

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It's a Wonderful Knife begins with some promise but never realises the potential of its fun central concept and runs out of steam long before its unsatisfying conclusion.
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