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The latest in the growing line of slasher twists on established family-friendly tales (Freaky, Happy Death Day) sees Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls) put a bloody spin on Frank Capra’s festive favorite It’s a Wonderful Life.
There’s no denying It’s a Wonderful Knife goes darker than its biggest influence, but it never forgets to keep that hopeful, warm heart, perhaps to its detriment at times.
After saving her town from a psychotic killer, revealed to be the town’s mayor (Justin Long), Winnie Carruthers’ (Jane Widdop) life is less than wonderful. Everyone tries to forget the horrors of what happened, and she’s left to deal with the trauma of what she’s personally lost. When the last straw is broken, she wishes she’d never been born, and miraculously discovers her wish has been granted. Unfortunately for Winnie, she finds herself in a nightmare parallel universe where, without her, things are much, much worse.
In this new alternate universe, nobody, not even her own family, knows who she is, and to make matters worse, the mayor is alive and well and has a taste for killing that’s seen him take control of the whole town.
I’ve rather enjoyed Justin Long’s headlong descent into pure shitheel territory recently. His innate likability is weaponized beautifully here as a full-on caricature of the two-faced little creep mayor character sees him steal every scene he’s in. He’s the dark heart of the movie, but in a deliciously cheesy fashion. A recurring theme of It’s a Wonderful Knife is that it tends to (deliberately) feel quite Hallmark in its Christmas movie stylings, from some of the characters to the way it’s shot. Long plays into that and works all the better as a murderous cad because of it. If there could be any complaint about his performance, it’s that he doesn’t get to do more with it, but more on that later.
Long’s Henry Waters is undoubtedly the antagonist of the piece, but he’s merely a catalyst for Winnie’s story of discovering her own self-worth and discovering why it’s important to know you matter to someone.
The only person who initially believes Winnie’s story of being from an alternate timeline is local outcast Bernie (Jess McLeod), whom Winnie and everyone else treats pretty terribly in the regular timeline. Bernie’s not exactly any more popular in this one, either. Of course, Winnie gets to really discover the person that Bernie is during their attempt to undo the wish. and Jess McLeod gets plenty of mileage out of her loveable dork routine.
I can’t say I expected It’s a Wonderful Knife to go the way it does, zigging where It’s a Wonderful Life zagged, and it’s the film’s gift and curse. I enjoyed its subversion of Capra’s narrative to relay a healthy message of hope that almost felt as uplifting as that movie’s famous ending. But I do think it derails the slasher aspect of the film massively. The Honeydew Hallmark homage pushes the horror to the periphery, and that’s going to be a contentious issue in a film that’s pitched as It’s a Wonderful Life with murders.
Still, at least the movie commits to its festive spirit. There’s a desire to balance light and dark that is admirable and doesn’t come from indecision, but from a need to replicate the format of its inspiration. It doesn’t bring every character along for the tonal rollercoaster (Winnie’s mom is just a horrible cardboard cutout of a ”bad mom” and her brother is barely more than a plot device), but the ones that do ride it through make it tick. Winnie and Bernie are the glue whenever Justin Long’s Mayor Waters isn’t onscreen, and it means that when we reach the revelations of the finale, they feel earned.
I still would understand if fans of Happy Death Day and Freaky got peeved at the shift to higher saccharine levels here. It’s a different beast, and will undoubtedly suffer rebuttal for that and how little time it spends with its antagonist, but I’ve stewed on this for a while, watched the film a couple of times, and taken it at face value the second time around. That was the optimum experience for It’s a Wonderful Knife.
Yes, it’s lacking as an out-and-out horror movie, but the flavoring does enough to make it an interesting Christmas movie. It delivers a message that feels in keeping with the season without reverting to the obvious ”Spirit of Christmas” spiel. It acknowledges that the festive period is a personal thing that doesn’t truly fit the commercial mold on an individual level if people are honest about that. It understands why Christmas is a horrible time for some people, too. I’ve been there, and that part of the story naturally resonated with me here.
Michael Kennedy, who wrote Freaky, is in charge of It’s a Wonderful Knife’s narrative, and given I thought Freaky was the strongest of Christopher Landon’s films, it’s unsurprising that this one connected with me in a way Happy Death Day and its sequel didn’t quite manage. Plenty of arguments about what the ”better” film can be had here, but there’s something in Kennedy’s writing that harks back to the simple honesty of a different era, and I appreciate that far more than a jumbled attempt to be the Kevin Williamson of the New Millenium.
I don’t know if you could call It’s a Wonderful Knife a new holiday favorite. Its heart is absolutely in the right place, but it needs time to brew and gain proper retrospective analysis when the main takeaway isn’t comparisons to Capra’s Christmas classic (which it’s unlikely to escape given the name) and the likes of Freaky. Some might argue there’s a cheapness to the movie, but it very much feels like an intentional move (nearly every actor has a cheapo Christmas movie on their CV). I would implore viewers to take this into consideration when watching It’s a Wonderful Knife. It may be a bit short on horror, but it fulfills its role as a Christmas movie.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to ”Good”. A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.