It’s a Wonderful Knife is an excellent title for a Christmas slasher movie. So excellent, it’s surprising no one thought of it before. (That’s the sign of a good pun – it seems obvious, even inevitable.) Unfortunately, nothing else about the film matches that level of inspiration.
The Opening Sequence
The opening sequence glows with the warm incandescent light of a Hallmark or Lifetime Christmas movie, introducing an idyllic town square full of smiling citizens in festive sweaters to match. Angel Falls is celebrating its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and everything seems perfect – at least on the surface. (Behind the scenes, there’s some family drama going on, but that’s not really important.) Then “The Angel,” an anonymous killer in a white cape and smooth, featureless white mask, appears at a raucous Christmas Eve party attended by our ostensible lead, Cara (Hana Huggins). Given that this is a slasher movie, it’s not hard to guess what happens next.
It’s a Wonderful Knife Gallery
Fifteen minutes in, a title card appears on screen, and the real story begins. As it turns out, Cara is not the protagonist of It’s a Wonderful Knife – her BFF Winnie (Jane Widdop) is. A year has passed since Cara’s artfully staged murder at the aforementioned party, and Winnie is appalled by her family’s reluctance to talk about what happened. So she storms off, like the angsty adolescent she is.
When she returns home, she finds that The Angel was not caught the previous Christmas, and is still terrorizing the citizens of Angel Falls. Winnie’s parents don’t recognize her, her brother is dead, and the town has the barrel-fire-and-boarded-up-windows vibe of a backlot shanty town. It’s almost like… she was never born. The “It’s a Wonderful Life, but with a killer” concept unfolds dependably from there, hitting every beat down to giving Winnie a Clarence – who’s aware she’s a Clarence, and says as much out loud at one point – in the form of teen outcast Bernie (Jess McLeod). Without spoiling too much, their relationship takes a refreshing turn towards the end of the movie.
Screenwriter Michael Kennedy isn’t beholden to only holiday-season staples here: In addition to the Scream-esque intro, there are traces of I Know What You Did Last Summer and other ’90s teen horror films. But the biggest shadow looming over It’s A Wonderful Knife is cast by Kennedy himself: He also wrote Freaky, the cheeky, blood-soaked 2020 horror riff on Freaky Friday directed by Christopher Landon. That film surpasses this one in terms of agility, which is less a reflection on Kennedy’s script than director Tyler Macintyre’s handling of it. Macintyre, who also directed 2017’s Tragedy Girls, displays an admirable grasp on, and respect for, the craft of suspense, particularly in the opening kill scene. And a slasher lives and dies (no pun intended) by its fundamentals, which takes It’s A Wonderful Knife a long way.
Stunt casting does little to lighten the sometimes-leaden stabs at comedy. In the role of Winnie’s dad, Joel McHale’s best scene is a dramatic one, believe it or not; Justin Long’s villainous turn, while fun at times, is taking place in a different, more heightened reality than the snarky, self-aware dimension where most of his co-stars reside.
The kills in It’s a Wonderful Knife are solid enough to satisfy devoted slasher fans.
There are a few good performances in It’s a Wonderful Knife: Widdop puts a heroic effort into her final-girl role, and Katharine Isabelle is charmingly unhinged as Winnie’s drunk lesbian aunt. (The only people who believe Winnie’s story are lesbians, a reflection of Kennedy’s queer sensibility.) And, again, the kills are solid enough to satisfy devoted slasher fans. But this is neither the writer nor the director’s tightest or most polished work. Is it enough of a misstep to destroy either of their careers? Probably not. They’ll reboot. It’s what they do.