The trick is to make a good movie. We do not have to belabor the obvious here. You need a good script. Even in horror, especially in horror, this is such a vital element. If you’re going full high-concept, you’ve gotta have some written words that were worth writing, dialogue worth dialoguing, and sequences worth sequencing. That’s where It’s a Wonderful Knife is in luck, as Michael Kennedy’s script lifts the film from passé teen Scream-like into a more bespoke sphere of teen storytelling. Because it understands the lexicon of horror and the movies that have come before it, it is a beneficiary of hard-earned craft and know-how, directed with charm by Tyler MacIntyre who has enough savvy to understand the difference between a good and bad cliché.
The logline is awesome in its simplicity: take It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), itself adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), and impart new value. The way MacIntyre’s movie creates new value is by inverting the story. Rather than have the character doubt their value in the world and have them see all the lives they’ve touched through an ephemeral supernatural journey, as in the two stories before it, Wonderful Knife takes a couple of detours.
The main character is Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop), who rescues her town Angel Falls from a serial killer one fateful Christmas Day. But family life has her down. She feels invisible. She wishes, into the shining Northern Lights in the sky, that she was never born. Her wish is granted and she is transported into a parallel dimension where she was never around. Folks acknowledge her presence but have no idea who she is. This means she didn’t stop the killer, who has recklessly torn through Angel Falls and now has a major kill count.
This sets the stage for an effective casual horror film. The tricks are not big. They are simple, little things. What works is direct character writing and convincing character performances. Joel McHale is having fun as the family patriarch who overspoiled his boy when he was alive, but now believes himself to be childless, and broken in this new timeline. The creepy town mayor, meanwhile, played by Justin Long, seems to be a new source of suspicion for Winnie, and she’ll have to keep her wits about her to investigate what’s really going on and try and stop the killer all over again.
It’s a Wonderful Knife works because it never overshoots its premise. It’s a simple holiday horror film with an easy-going inversion of a classic Christmas movie. That already grounds it in an understanding of cinema before it and allows it some leverage to retell a classic story and the audience will be able to follow whatever tricks it has up its sleeve. You need a good killer design in these things too, and the pure white mask works well to create a fun-looking murderer who would be easy to dress up as. There’s not so much here that it becomes a new horror classic itself but like last year’s Violent Night, this makes for easy Christmas horror programming, to accompany reliably established entries like the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies. There’s enough here that the average horror and off-kilter Christmas movie fan will get a big kick out of it. Sometimes it just takes a working script and a good idea.