I’m really loving this trend of turning beloved movies into slashers. First you had HAPPY DEATH DAY which took its cue from GROUNDHOG DAY. Then TOTALLY KILLER riffs on a certain Michael J. Fox classic. Now we’re going further back to Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which has been turned into a fun new film called IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE.
You totally wouldn’t have guessed that from the title, right?
It opens during the Christmas season in Angel Falls. Winnie Carruthers and her family are at the town tree lighting. Her father David (Joel McHale) works for Mayor Henry Waters (Justin Long, continuing his track of sleazy characters he started in BERSERKER) and has to go off to handle some business. That business? Murder! Just kidding. It’s trying to convince an old man to sell his home because Henry has his sights set on redeveloping the town with a mega shopping center. The man refuses to sell and David and Henry leave. However, a masked killer Angel shows up and kills the poor man.
Winnie and her brother Jimmy go to a party with friends. You know who else goes? The angel! He’s there to butcher Cara, the daughter of the old man who wouldn’t sell and Winnie’s best friend. Cara dies but Winnie saves her brother from dying and ends up killing the Angel, who, shocker, is Henry Waters!
One year later, Winnie is still suffering trauma from the events of that night while her family seems to have moved on. Winnie heads down to the bridge and looks out over the water and sees the aurora borealis and wishes she had never been born. There’s a flash and guess what happens? Now Winnie is stuck in an alternate universe where the Angel is still on the prowl and everything is wrong. Can she get home or will she end up a victim of the Angel?
This was a fun one. I was snagged by the title and the conceit alone but the twists on the story help it stop from being just a murderous retread of Capra’s classic Christmas tale. It’s a horror/comedy, so never treads too dark, though the kills don’t shy away from being bloody as hell. But it’s a well balanced one, so the comedy doesn’t outshine the horror, either. They could have just pointed Joel McHale in a direction and let him go nuts but instead he gives a restrained and nuanced performance. Katherine Isabelle as Winnie’s aunt is the greater source of comic relief, her snarky comments flying fast and furious when she’s on screen with a great, wry delivery.
Speaking of the cast, Jane Widdop as Winnie really carries the movie, which is good, since it revolves around her. You really believe she’s carrying the trauma inflicted on her and it weighs her down, but somehow she digs deep and finds a way to carry on. I think a lot of us have been there, suffering a loss that affects us deeply and profoundly, so much so we are in shock that others aren’t moved as much as we are, which makes us profoundly angry. It’s that undercurrent of rage that fuels Winnie’s quest, at first to erase herself from existence and then her fight to get back to where she belongs.
Much like in TOTALLY KILLER, Winnie has seen the movie that this one is aping so she has an idea of what to do, and Jane confers that to us with great comic timing, not with the snark that a lesser thespian might do with the script. Jess McLeod as Weirdo is pretty great too, making her character strange but not so odd we dislike her.
Tyler MacIntyre (TRAGEDY GIRLS) does a great job directing the script by Michael Kennedy (FREAKY). It’s no surprise I liked the movie as much as I did considering those two films are pretty fantastic. Knowing that director of TRAGEDY GIRLS did this makes even more sense how well the relationship between Jane and Weirdo is handled. Their friendship becomes the core of the movie and whereas McKayla and Sadie are using their knowledge of movies for evil, the duo in IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE are using theirs for good. I want to give a shout out to the design of the killer too. As a writer, thinking up cool outfits for slashers is a lot tougher than you would think, especially if you’re trying not to be derivative of those that have come before. The Angel is a study in minimalist design but it really, really works. I absolutely love it.
If you’re looking for a fun Christmas horror movie that wears its influence on its sleeve and is packed full of holiday goodness, you should definitely check this out.