Producers: Seth Caplan, Michael Kennedy and Daniel Bekerman Director: Tyler MacIntyre Screenplay: Michael Kennedy Cast: Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, William B. Davis, Justin Long, Aiden Howard, Erin Boyes, Sean Depner, Zenia Marshall, Jason Fernandes, Hanna Huggins and Kiki Faye Distributor: RLJE Films/Shudder
Holiday-themed horror movies have become commonplace in recent years, and within the category time-travel slasher pictures now form a minor subgenre. “It’s a Wonderful Knife”—the titular reference to a seasonal perennial is too obvious to bear discussion—is the latest example.
Michael Kennedy’s screenplay begins on Christmas Eve in a town called Angel Falls, where greedy entrepreneur Henry Waters (Justin Long, gleefully chewing the scenery) is pushing people to sell their homesteads for his projected shopping center. One who refuses is Roger Evans (William B. Davis, once Cigarette Smoking Man on “The X-Files”), who intends his house to pass to his granddaughter Cara (Hanna Huggins) on his death. After Cara leaves to celebrate with her friends, a knock at Evans’ door introduces a masked killer dressed entirely in white who dispatches the old man with a knife. Soon after the figure slays Cara outside the restaurant where her friend Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) is watching in horror from inside. The murderer continues his rampage, but Winnie finally intervenes and electrocutes him; it turns out to be Waters.
Cue the titles.
A year later, Winnie is disconsolate because her family has ostentatiously moved on from the mayhem, her father David (Joel McHale), who had been Waters’ browbeaten aide, having assumed control of the dead killer’s real estate firm and, with Winnie’s brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard), making it both successful and popular, while her mother Judy (Erin Boyes) and aunt Gale (Katharine Isabelle) have embraced their new social prominence. To make matters worse, she discovers that her boyfriend Robbie (Jason Fernandes) has been playing around with her classmate Darla (Zenia Marshall). In her despondence Winnie wishes she’d never been born.
Somehow—Clarence makes no appearance here, though there are lights in the sky—her unwise wish is granted, and she finds Angel Falls still in the grip of the mass murderer, the number of victims now over twenty. Waters is mayor and his shopping center has been built on the property he’d lusted after, though much of the town is in a dilapidated state; his brother Buck (Sean Depner) is the inept police chief, unable to do anything about the killings. Among the victims is Jimmy; David is an emotional mess, as are both Judy and Gale. As for Winnie, no one recognizes her, and her insistence that she knows the identity of the killer is dismissed as the raving of an oddball stranger.
She finds an ally, however, in high school outcast Bernie (Jess McLeod). Though derided as a weirdo by virtually everyone in both versions of the town, she and Winnie bond, and together they work to unmask Waters, whom they presume is still the killer. Kennedy throws in a twist when the murderer’s identity is revealed, as well as a big finale set in the place that’s Bernie’s hideaway, the local theatre. But rest assured that all turns out well, and Winnie’s desire to return to her own time and place—which have altered, inexplicably, for the better since she left—is fulfilled by whatever power is behind everything. Part of the improvement is that Winnie and Jess are now BFFs. (Cara and her grandfather, unhappily, are still dead.)
The script isn’t terribly clever—less a sharp parody of the film that inspired it than a pale teen-centric recycling of it. Nor, despite a few bloody moments (like Cara’s murder), does it ever go for the jugular in horror terms, generating little suspense and few scares; in fright terms, it’s a pretty pallid affair.
But the cast fling themselves into things energetically, with Long standing out as the hissable villain and Widdop and McLeod making a likable pair of Scooby-Doo type sleuths. Though it’s hardly a top-tier affair budget-wise, Tiana P. Gordon’s production design differentiates pretty nicely between the two versions of Angel Falls, as does Nicholas Piatnik’s cinematography, bright and airy for the “now” sequences and dark and gloomy (sometimes excessively so) for the “year later” ones. Matea Pasaric’s all white, faceless costume for the “snow angel” killer is pretty striking as well. Arndt-Wulf Peemöller’s editing and Russ Howard’s score are no more than serviceable, but they’ll do.
As a theatrical feature, “It’s a Wonderful Knife” is a low-level horror entry. But when it becomes available for home viewing on Shudder (now scheduled for December 22), genre fans might want to give it a look, preferably with a glass of Christmas cheer at their side.