It’s a Wonderful Knife

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A squeezing of yet more blood from a very well squeezed stone, It’s a Wonderful Knife takes the 1980s/90s slasher movie and gives it a multiverse tweak by way of that 1946 Christmas classic starring James Stewart.

The slasher movie and the Christmas movie often have similar starting points – peace and goodwill to all men – before disruption rears its head. Director Tyler MacIntyre and writer Michael Kennedy situate us right in a familiar, cosy world of snow, warm winter clothing and a white-picket small town preparing for Christmas then deliver a twist we can see coming, followed by another one we won’t see coming if the reference in the title to It’s a Wonderful Life means nothing.

But first, in Scream/Halloween style, a likeable young woman to be monstered – Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop). And a masked serial killer loose in a small town where the most horrific element thus far has been the grimly hearty and self-serving property developer Henry Waters (Justin Long), a teak-tanned ball of rapacious self love.

In classic “it’s happening again” plotting, MacIntyre and Kennedy quickly run through the entirety of an old school slasher movie in a handful of minutes, culminating in the bit where the killer is unmasked just as he dies. Which is where the It’s a Wonderful Life twist comes in – wishing she’d never been born for reasons that needn’t detain us, Winnie suddenly finds herself in exactly the same situation that James Stewart did all those decades ago.

What would life be like if she had never been born? For one Winnie’s family and friends would no longer know who she was. For another, the killer would still be at large and the predatory Waters would have continued buying up any bit of the town he fancied. In the alternate timeline, this is his town now.

One year on from her last encounter with him – doesn’t Christmas come around so quickly? – Winnie’s job is to stop the killer (again) and get back to her own version of reality, with no support structure to rely on. A metaphor for growing up, perhaps.

Justin Long as smarmy developer Henry Waters
Justin Long as smarmy developer Henry Waters

By my reckoning this is Justin Long’s third Christmas movie in just over a year, joining The Christmas Break and Christmas with the Campbells. He’s not quite the Long we’re used to this time round, playing the villainous property developer with the attitude of a man trying to shake off a reputation for likeability – Bond villainy here he comes.

He’s not in it that much and only turns up now and again to twirl a metaphorical moustache and utter a silent cackle. The weight of the story falls on Widdop and Jess McLeod, who plays the shunned local girl known as “Weirdo”. In the alternate world where the killer still lurks, “Weirdo” fulfils the role of the crusty old sage with the cobwebby book who explains just what is going on, in alternate-universe terms at least. She’s less certain when it comes to the mad masked slasher stalking the town.

Widdop is likeable and a good screamer, McLeod is also attention-grabbing as the boggle-eyed Weirdo, whose real name turns out to be Bernie. For horror fans, it’s nice, also, to see Katharine Isabelle – of Ginger Snaps and American Mary (classics both) – playing Winnie’s aunt.

Like a slasher movie of yore this is a film that’s all about white people. There are boxticking casting gestures that are either a stiff finger to the notion of diversity or a reflection of the way these things used to go – a lesbian here, a black guy there and so on.

There is one plot detail towards the end that isn’t really adequately explained, but it does go some way to explaining another illogicality – if a serial killer with a big knife was running around in your neighbourhood, would you still be popping outside on your own to smoke a cigarette or indulge in some other off-the-books activity? No one in this town – where things are so bad that the mayor has imposed a nighttime curfew – seems to have altered their behaviour at all.

Another way of putting this is that this is a movie that asks us to buy into the high concept and not worry too much about its consequences. Not everything adds up. Great title though, eh?

Orders to Kill – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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