Movie Review ~ It’s a Wonderful Knife

The Facts:

Synopsis: A year after saving her town from a psychotic killer on Christmas Eve, Winnie Carruthers’ life is less than wonderful — but when she wishes she’d never been born, she finds herself in a nightmare parallel universe and discovers that without her, things could be much, much worse.
Stars: Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, William B. Davis, Justin Long
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Rated: NR
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Would Taylor Swift be where she is today if she hadn’t become a successful crossover artist? In a short amount of time, she was moving from country music to becoming a pop darling who is now the biggest artist on the planet. Due to that sustained crossover appeal, Swift has amassed many fans following her from one genre to another. That’s the ultimate prize for any consumer-based product released to the public: finding out if it can capture the attention of more than just its target audience, and it’s undoubtedly true in movies. Genre movies, horror specifically, can struggle to snag viewers who wouldn’t usually go for that type of entertainment. It takes uncovering a rare gem (an easy example is 1993’s A Nightmare Before Christmas) to find a new title to add to the list.

While I wouldn’t put It’s a Wonderful Knife on quite the same level as Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated holiday classic, I will give this creatively crafted twist on a perennial Christmas film major props for comfortably straddling two genres (slasher and Christmas) and representing both with an evident unbiased enthusiasm. Riffing on It’s a Wonderful Life is nothing new; Hollywood has been putting its spin on that Capra chestnut for ages, but it’s how writer Michael Kennedy (Freaky) approaches the material that sets it apart.

It’s Christmas in Angel Falls, and Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) wants to party with her friends while her family finishes their celebration at home. Too bad a knife-wielding murderer in a white cloak and featureless mask has chosen that night to begin their reign of terror on the town. What Winnie doesn’t know is that the killer, known as the Angel of Death, is targeting their victims for personal reasons, and her own family may be at risk. Luckily, though the Angel racks up a decent body count, Winnie takes the killer down before they can murder her brother. 

Unmasking the predator should lead to a resolution, but a year later, life in Angel Falls has grown rancid for Winnie, who is treated as a pariah for her service or forgotten about altogether. In anger, she wishes to a night illuminated with the Northern Lights that she’d never even been born…and her wish is granted. Making that wish has changed the course of events throughout time, though. In this new reality, not only do Winnie’s family and friends not know who she is, but no one stopped the Angel of Death’s first rampage, and they’ve been routinely taking out townspeople ever since that first Christmas one year prior. Winnie knows who the killer is, however, and as she tries to convince her family that she’s their long-lost (unborn) daughter, she teams up with a loner (Jess McLeod) to make sure this Angel gets their wings clipped. But if Winnie’s wish changed the fabric of time, could it also have changed the killer’s identity?

Embracing the holiday spirit while finding new ways for a masked serial killer to slice and dice revelers in a time-hopping horror fantasy could have been too hefty of an undertaking for a low-budget, direct-to-streaming title. However, no filmmakers here should expect to receive a lump of coal in their stockings based on It’s a Wonderful Knife. This is fun, with an engaging cast that makes it easy to watch. It’s also made of strong(ish) stuff, with most of the far-fetched logistics thought through enough or skimmed over quickly not to leave you obsessing over the dangling plot threads. 

Carrying most of the film and its wrinkles in time on her back, Widdop was a strong casting choice by director Tyler MacIntyre. Obnoxious enough at the start to sell the angsty teenager vibe but able to quickly pivot to a young adult thrust into a crazy situation, Widdop is why many weightless shifts the film goes out on a limb with are given additional heft. She is also paired nicely with McLeod, a high-school castoff who suddenly becomes an essential figure in Winnie’s plan. There’s a fun supporting turn by Katherine Isabelle (Knight Moves) as Winnie’s aunt, and as Winnie’s dad, Joel McHale (Becky) continues his fascinating attempt to define his place in mainstream film. Then there’s Justin Long (Barbarian), who has been on a winning streak lately. I’ll say that Long opting to play his character with a voice like Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie was…a choice.

It’s a Wonderful Knife has a cheeky title that will catch the attention of the viewer…and who isn’t up for a little slasher whodunit with a twist? It comes out of the box ready to go with a built-in energy that keeps it moving with zip through its trim runtime. I can see this one working as a Halloween watch through the end of the year and beyond. That’s winning the crossover jackpot right there.

31 Days to Scare ~ Run Sweetheart Run

The Facts:

Synopsis: Initially apprehensive when her boss insists she meets with one of his most important clients, s single mother is relieved and excited when the influential businessman defies expectations and sweeps her off her feet. But at the end of the night, when the two are alone together, he reveals his true, violent nature. Battered and terrified, she flees for her life, beginning a relentless cat-and-mouse game with a bloodthirsty assailant hell-bent on her utter destruction.
Stars: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbæk, Clark Gregg, Dayo Okeniyi, Betsy Brandt, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ava Grey
Director: Shana Feste
Rated: R
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  Tracking the new film Run Sweetheart Run over the past two years reminded me of what it was like to follow a movie before the internet became this unruly beast. Back 20-25 years ago, there were a few sites online where you could find information about upcoming movies that updated more frequently than your weekly/monthly subscription magazines. Through these sites, often maintained by zealous fans and consisting of gossip tidbits, you could catch wind of a movie that sounded up your alley and then track it through production, marketing, and, finally, release. I can recall following along for the releases The Relic (charting the many delays to its 1997 arrival in theaters) and, the biggest one of all, the modern shark classic Deep Blue Sea in 1999.

Run Sweetheart Run had barely time to make it onto my radar after its debut at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival before its distribution into theaters was canceled when the lockdown closed movie houses and turned Hollywood into a ghost town. While many similar genre titles eventually found their way into viewers’ homes via streaming or minor theatrical releases once theaters began opening up, Run Sweetheart Run had seemingly vanished from existence. Though it had been sold off to Amazon quickly in May 2020, the streaming service and original producer Blumhouse sat on the film for over two years, a strange stretch to let such an innocuous title languish on a next-to-empty shelf. 

Movies that gather dust on a shelf start to gain a reputation, not a good one. I never quite understood why Blumhouse and Amazon would let the horror title, directed by Shana Feste (Country Strong) and written by Feste along with Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell, remain unreleased when they put out other titles that might have benefitted from later rollouts. I’d keep checking the IMDb page and news sources for information on the film (mind you, all I had to go on was the synopsis, the cast list, and a few random press photos, the original buzzed-about trailer was never even released online) but came up with nothing. Then…October 2022 rolled around, and it was time for Run Sweetheart Run to get its due.

I’ve followed many films that turned out to be duds, but I was so happy to find that Feste’s film was tremendous fun, the kind of bolt-for-your-life horror that moves so fast you don’t have time to clock how out of joint the logic is at times. The film feeds off the energy put forth by its appealing leads, Ella Balinska and Pilou Asbæk, and a pulsating-synth music score that turns Los Angeles into a neon-tinged town of menace for one woman desperate to survive a night of horrors and the man that is the cause of it all.

Single mother Cherie (Balinska, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels) is studying to get her law degree and working at a high-profile law firm with a boss (Clark Gregg, Moxie) that benefits from her hard work. She double-booked him tonight for an anniversary date with his wife and dinner with a client in town for the evening. Practically guilting her into going, a reluctant Cherie agrees to go out with the client, but when she meets Ethan (Asbæk, Overlord), she’s grateful for her supposed error. A handsome, successful man, Ethan seems interested in Cherie too and has said enough right things by the end of the night that he convinced her to cancel her ride home and come inside with him. As they enter the house, Ethan turns back and stares into the camera, stopping it from following the two of them indoors. What is about to happen is…private.

We don’t see what happens inside, but we hear it, one of several acts of violence toward women that Feste does not show. That may seem like it gives the audience a break from another movie depicting violence against women. Still, there’s something sinister in how characters break the fourth wall and physically move the camera so the audience can’t see what’s about to happen. Cherie is different, though, and is unwilling to go down gently. So begins a night where Cherie is pursued by an evil that won’t stop no matter who is standing in his way. Involving family and friends won’t help Cherie either because Ethan has more than worldly powers at his disposal.

There’s more than a nugget of good ideas and a ton of metaphor, but, almost blessedly, Feste doesn’t lean into this too much. Instead, Feste lets you take the analogy to heart and come up with your interpretation of who Ethan is and what he ultimately has been tasked to do. Feste imbues the story early on with some cheeky fun, but that melts away the further into the night the story gets. That’s also when Balinksa entirely takes control of the movie, and while she may share the lead responsibilities with Asbæk, she’s unquestionably the show’s star.

You can poke holes all around the story and screenplay, but it defeats the bloody-ied fun of the experience. It’s a shame the film got lost in the shuffle because it’s well done and comes across as a confident change of gears for many involved. I could have done with a little more time in the second act with a new character introduced in the final 1/3, but that would add additional time that I don’t think the simple set-up could have supported. Available on streaming, you won’t have to sprint to Run Sweetheart Run, but do walk quickly to add it to your list for a perfect weekend option leading up to Halloween.