Movies & TV / Reviews

It’s a Wonderful Knife Review

November 6, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
It's A Wonderful Knife Image Credit: RLJE Films/Shudder
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
It’s a Wonderful Knife Review  

Directed by: Tyler MacIntyre
Written by: Michael Kennedy

Jane Widdop – Winnie Carruthers
Joel McHale – David Carruthers
Justin Long – Henry Waters
Jess McLeod – Bernie Simon
Katharine Isabelle – Gale Prescott
Aiden Howard – Jimmy Carruthers
Erin Boyes – Judy Carruthers
Sean Depner – Buck Waters
William B. Davis – Roger Evans

Image Credit: RLJE Films & Shudder Films

Running Time: 87 minutes
Rated R for bloody violence, drug use and language.

There’s been a growing trend as of late in what I like to call the slasher mashup. It’s a hybrid concept that combines the slasher with films, usually nostalgic comedies such as Happy Death (Groundhog Day), Freaky (Freaky Friday), and Totally Killer (Back to the Future). These films tend to be particularly adept at adding the fun back into the slasher film – a subgenre I love, but one that is known for being rigid to the point of distressingly formulaic.

Freaky came from writer Michael Kennedy, and it’s no surprise that his name is on the screenplay for It’s a Wonderful Knife. Releasing in theaters on Friday, the cheekily named mashup combines the slasher with (you guessed it) It’s a Wonderful Life, taking some cues from the made-for-TV holiday film genre for a fairly enjoyable spin down to the corner of Candy Cane Lane and Masked Killer Road.

Knife lands its viewers in Angel Falls, the self-proclaimed “Christmas Capital of World” with the season in full bloom. The town’s residents take part in all the holiday traditions, up to and including a major tree-lighting ceremony led by Henry Waters (Justin Long), the corny and rather manic head of the development company that is seeking to transform the town with a massive mall project.

Among those in attendance is happy teenager Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop). Winnie’s dad David (Joel McHale) is one of Henry’s chief employees. While her dad ends up having to work on Christmas Eve, Winnie is able to content herself with going out to a party with her brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard) and her friends.

Unfortunately, tragedy strikes at the party when her friends (and others in the town) are targeted by a white-robed, masked killer. Winnie is able to fight him off and even kills him. But she loses friends, and a year later she is unable to shake off what happened. Her family and the rest of the town are trying to move on, but she can’t get past the trauma of the incident.

When she wishes that she’d never been born on an Aurora Borealis, that’s exactly what happens – and she discovers exactly how bad it is. The Angel, as the killer is known, has racked up dozens of kills and the town doesn’t seem able to stop him – and is resigned to not even trying. Winnie must team up with Bernie (Jess McLeod), the school outcast, to stop the killer and figure out how to get back to her own reality.

Kennedy’s script for It’s a Wonderful Knife wears its references right on its sleeve in Christmas-y neon lights. With a title like that, just about anyone can get the message and the screenplay does away with any pretenses of its concept in short order. The holiday classic is directly referenced more than once, which frees it up from needing to dance around the issue. The choice also allows Kennedy to have some more fun with the concept, as he draws on some Hallmark influences, at least in the first act.

Director Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls) films the first part of the movie with an overbright, made-for-TV-esque sheen that leans into the cheesiness, all the better for us to realize how far things have gone by the time Winnie is in the Without Her-Verse. That same dichotomy is caught in the mix of the heartwarming “life lesson”-style conceit and the violent kills, which are effectively brutal if a bit to CGI’d in some instances. CGI blood is always difficult to get right and there are a couple of noticeable moments where it that fall too much on the fake side, but it’s hard to be too critical of that when we have a few pretty vicious and creative kills overall.

It also doesn’t hurt that the cast is incredibly game here. Widdop, who saw their star rise with an excellent turn on Yellowjackets as the deeply religious Laura Lee, nicely embodies Winnie and makes the character a likeable protagonist. They pair very well with McLeod, who gets the high school outcast role down while still giving Bernie a few shades that make her a unique character. Their chemistry is downright palpable, and it pays off in spades in the back half of the film.

The supporting cast is also very strong. McHale and Long play into their strengths as actors; you can always count on Long to give a notable performance, and he goes for broke as the goofily off-kilter antagonist. And genre fan-favorite Katheine Isabelle, who it’s always a delight to see pop up on screen, plays Winnie’s sardonic yet understanding lesbian aunt in a scene-stealing turn like only Isabelle can.

There are no shortage of Christmas horror movies and while their often-brutal satirical shots at the season are always fun, it’s nice to see a film that embraces the sentimentality of the holiday. MacIntyre is able to mix the warmth of the teen comedy with the holiday vibes and the slasher elements in a surprisingly smooth mix that goes down easy.

The budgetary constraints may be obvious here but outside of the aforementioned CGI blood, MacIntyre leans into it to the aesthetic, and it works more than it doesn’t. It’s not completely without its rough patches and the climactic scene cuts a few narrative corners; it feels like some scenes may have been edited out that explain the behavior of the town as a whole a bit better. Outside of those speed bumps though, this is a fun and – dare I say – festive slasher film that should appeal to those who don’t mind mixing a bit of schmaltz into their slasher cocktails.

It’s a Wonderful Knife releases in theaters on November 10th.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Tyler MacIntyre and Michael Kennedy's It's a Wonderful Life is a surprisingly-effective mix of Hallmark holiday sentiment and modern slasher aesthetics. Jane Widdop leads a capable cast that understands exactly what material they're working with, and the slasher mashup vibes keep the film moving strong even when a couple iffy visual effects moments and narrative cheats threaten to trip things up. It may not work for everyone, but it's destined to become a yearly holiday slasher comfort watch for those who don't mind a heartwarming undercurrent to their horror.