John Carver with an axe in Thanksgiving

Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’ Reminds Us Black Friday Is a Real-Life Horror Film

Eli Roth’s holiday slasher Thanksgiving premiered on November 17, 2023, and offers horror fans a gory grindhouse feast. However, it goes a bit deeper than a standard slasher with a light socio-political message, reminding viewers that Black Friday is a real-life horror film.

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Thanksgiving follows the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, one year after it was rattled by tragedy. The prior year, a Black Friday crowd waiting for a shop to open got out of control, resulting in a bloody riot that cost three people their lives and left others critically injured. On the anniversary of the incident, a man dressed as John Carver (voiced by Adam MacDonald) begins massacring residents of Plymouth who were present or involved in the riot.

While Thanksgiving‘s opening scene of the riot definitely ramps up the violence and gore for the shock factor, there is an element of truth to the depiction. Black Friday has become a notorious “holiday” that represents everything wrong with capitalism and consumer culture. There have been incidents nearly as gruesome as Thanksgiving‘s riot, as consumers sometimes lose their humanity when it comes to getting the best deal. Instances of shootings, stabbings, and brawls tend to arise on this date, and there is at least one recorded trampling death from a Black Friday stampede. So it’s not surprising Roth’s film has something to say about this holiday.

Thanksgiving was inspired by Black Friday

(TriStar Pictures)

In an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, Roth confirmed that Black Friday was part of his inspiration for Thanksgiving. He pointed out that there’s an element of “absurdity” to the shopping holiday that was perfect for a slasher movie. After all, Thanksgiving and Black Friday take place back to back, and, in theory, they couldn’t be more different. Thanksgiving is associated with gratitude, love, and family, while Black Friday is all about greed and material things. Roth stated, “The holidays are about being thankful, and [people saying] ‘I’m so thankful for what I have and thankful for my health and family.’ And then two hours later, people are killing each other for a flatscreen TV or a waffle iron!”

It makes sense to witness the chaos of Black Friday and conjure a horror film where consumers lose control. However, Thanksgiving goes a little deeper by having this be the event that sparks a series of revenge killings. The mysterious killer clearly wants everyone to pay for the riot. Still, some of his targets aren’t entirely at fault. Is it acceptable to blame a storeowner or employees for how customers behave? It’s easy to watch the film and condemn the actions of the unruly crowd, but who is really at fault in circumstances like these?

The idea of Black Friday didn’t just appeal to Roth because of the absurdity but also because it is a dark representation of capitalism. He stated, “It’s not even that it’s about [customers’] greed. It’s the greed at the top level that forces people into these gladiator games. That’s the real sickness that’s underneath it — it’s not that the people are greedy, it’s that people are forced to do this because they’re not paid enough money and there’s no middle class anymore. On a subconscious level, that’s what’s disturbing to all of us: We’re all forced into this rat race of fighting over things that we think we need by overlords that are just the ones getting rich from it.”

Roth makes an excellent point that the horror elements of Black Friday aren’t that customers get unruly. It’s the whole notion of the holiday overall. This “holiday” was really just manufactured by the wealthy, who decided to make it an annual tradition for their underpaid, overworked employees to have to cut their holiday short and work double shifts immediately after Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, all these retail tycoons know that dangling one day a year where deals are at their best will lure in massive crowds because, for many struggling to make a livable wage, it’s the only day of the year they can afford these things.

That’s where the desperation comes in and sometimes leads to the same people who condemn the holiday still being unable to refrain from playing the twisted “game” of the upper class. There’s no better premise for a holiday horror film than that.

(featured image: TriStar Pictures)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.