It’s a Wonderful Knife tells the story of Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop), a socially withdrawn teenager whose life has gone down a less than wonderful path. In the freewheeling, happy-go-lucky mountain town of Angel Falls, she manages to stop the Angel Killer, who had just gone on a massive killing spree, including the death of her best friend.
But a year later since then, Winnie has gone on to hard times as she still bears the emotional turmoil of the incident — including being threatened by the killer’s brother and being ignored by her family — while everyone else has gone into denial to the point of experiencing toxic optimism. Unable to take on the turmoil any longer, she impulsively wishes she had never been born, which it ultimately comes true as it teleports her to a parallel universe where the killer was never stopped.
It’s a Wonderful Knife is the latest film from horror creatives Tyler MacIntyre and Michael Kennedy, both best known for well-received horror films like Tragedy Girls and Freaky. Those films are slashers that were not afraid to toy with storytelling and genre expectations to deliver grand entertainment and It’s a Wonderful Knife ably follows suit. Meshing go-for-broke slasher tropes with the cheerfulness of Christmas spirit with a helping of genre satire, It’s a Wonderful Knife is a blood-drenched and heartwarming time at the movies.
Not intent on just combining two genre aesthetics and hoping that both will stick, MacIntyre and Kennedy manage to subvert and skewer both genres to entertaining aplomb. As with the Christmas cheerfulness, they manage to pin down the inherent critiques that come with it like mass consumerism, tribalism in terms of its rampant positivity and combine it with irrational deniability in terms of tragedy and financial status, making the pathos in the drama capably felt.
Speaking of pathos, the film’s heart lies with the relationship between Winnie and Bernie (Jess McLeod). The chemistry between the two is welcoming, beguiling and eventually heartwarming, without appearing overly sappy or cloying. The shared camaraderie and the viewpoints in being both outsiders and having the need to be heard — in both a figurative sense and a literal sense––speaks volumes in the drama and makes the characters worth caring about.
That is not to say that the film is all about the drama and the love as MacIntyre and Kenndy never got the horror; nor do they play it down in order to compensate for the cheerfulness on display. The kills are appropriately bloody and filled with gallons of crimson cheer while the setpieces with ample inspiration. The staging and lighting of the setpieces is well-done as it captures the appropriately icy feel of the locations; providing a starkly yet vivid look into the foreboding mood of both the emptiness of Christmas and impending doom. While the use of sound is inspired as to how it can be distorted and amplified to accentuate the scares. One particularly notable sequence set in the cinema involves the clever use of sound design that incorporates characters jokingly choking on Christmas sentimentality segueing into brutality in a darkly comedic way.
The performances from the cast tip-toe the fine line between sincere and broad; fitting the arch tone of the movie extremely well. Widdop makes an engaging lead as Winnie as she navigates the alternate world as well as her own turmoil with sympathy, resilience and a hard-nosed view that fits her dramatic and comedic sensibilities. Her observations to the new world around her provide solid mirth while her chemistry with McLeod (who gives a very understated performance as Bernie) is touching.
The supporting cast of horror veterans and character actors provide great work that all add to the fun. Joel McHale and Erin Boyes play the tacked-on smiles while seething with deep emotion very well while Katharine Isabelle and especially Justin Long are very funny as the drunk auntie and power-hungry mayor of Angel Falls. Long in particular utilizes his peculiarly white teeth for all of its worth and delivers a hilariously pantomime performance that fits the cartoony glee of the film. There has not been a fun front-teeth performance like this since Toby Jones‘ performance in Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom.
For all of its positives, the film does leave a bit to be desired and most of it is due to its short runtime. While the lean runtime of eighty-seven minutes is appropriate to a genre piece such as It’s a Wonderful Knife, the film could have used more breathing room in letting the relationships develop a little more. The runtime could also have been expanded in letting the climax feel more impactful in terms of escalation and confrontation; as it feels a bit anti-climactic in its resolution.
Overall, It’s a Wonderful Knife is a fun addition to the Christmas slasher genre as it provides the requisite kills, spills and genre thrills alongside a heartwarming sensibility that is sure to be a horror hit. Recommended.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
It’s a Wonderful Knife is now showing in US cinemas thanks to RLJE Films and Shudder. The film will stream on Shudder in Australia from December 1st, 2023.