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It's a Wonderful Knife an unabashedly Queer yuletide slasher gift worth unwrapping

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Photo courtesy of RLJE Films / Shudder
Photo courtesy of RLJE Films / Shudder


On Christmas Eve, mild-mannered high schooler Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) saved her hometown Angel Falls from becoming the murderous landing spot for a psychotic killer dressed like a faceless, all-white archangel, but not before a small handful of people — including her best friend — were brutally slaughtered. A year later, it is as if everyone, including her father David (Joel McHale), mom Judy (Erin Boyes), and star-athlete older brother Jimmy (Aiden Howard), has moved on, choosing to act like the bloody holiday massacre never even happened.

Before you can say "Clarence," "George Bailey," or "Bedford Falls," Winnie finds herself in a surreal situation when, on the anniversary of her slaying the killer and underneath a mystical aurora, she states aloud that the world would have been a better place had she never existed. Overnight, she's thrust into an alternate reality where this lethal angelic demon still exists, no one knows who she is, and, if she doesn't set things straight, she — along with everyone she loves the most — will be on this vicious psychopath's naughty list.

It's a Wonderful Knife is an unabashedly Queer delight. It's another violent lark, inspired by a family-friendly cinematic classic, fresh from the sinister mind of screenwriter Michael Kennedy, and much like Freaky, 2020's body-swapping slice of gender-bending carnage, this gory spin on a yuletide staple is equally inventive. But there is an added layer of emotional depth and genuine empathetic catharsis to this goofy genre mashup — a heartfelt warmth that's downright sublime — that sets the film apart from its predecessor.

The central relationship that makes everything work is between Winnie and the town's outcast, Bernie Simon (Jess McLeod). In the alternate reality, the former has to convince the latter she's acquainted with her clueless classmate (even though they were never friends when they actually knew one another). This allows a connection to spark, one that may even blossom into romance.

Widdop and McLeod are divine. They have an instantaneous connection. The pair are entirely on one another's wavelength, and their chemistry is so ferociously palpable that it comes close to melting the screen. They produce the film's biggest laughs, they help augment its most insidious thrills, and — most importantly — they give the project its humanity. There's a line between them near the end that's so beautifully unforeseen that I yelped in teary happiness, this single moment perfectly summarizing all of the themes in Kennedy's script involving community, family, acceptance, and togetherness that he is so deftly attempting to explore.

The other standout performance comes from Justin Long. Channeling Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels from Tootsie by way of one of Donald Trump's angrily egocentric children, he plays the power-mad businessman Henry Waters. It's a larger-than-life portrait of pure, unadulterated, dippy evil that's like something out of a Hanna-Barbera television cartoon. McHale is also quite good, delivering a surprisingly multilayered performance, while Katharine Isabelle pops up and steals her fair share of scenes as Winnie's colorfully deadpan Lesbian aunt Gale Prescott.

The final showdown is something of a minor letdown. It feels slightly anticlimactic, and while I loved how key characters join forces to put down evil and free their town from a hypnotic curse, things happen with such matter-of-fact suddenness that the final thrust of the knife into terror's abdomen is underwhelming.

But director Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls) never loses focus. He keeps a zippy pace, and I liked that he does not allow anyone to take all this slasher nonsense too seriously. Yet he also doesn't treat any of these events as farce. There is no winking at the audience, no Airplane-style or Scary Movie-like inanity to dilute the warmly comforting joy pulsating at the center of all the gruesome butchery. Instead, he makes sure this remains the Winnie and Bernie show, and Widdop and McLeod continually dazzle as they amorously rise to the occasion.

I had no idea what to expect when It's a Wonderful Knife came my way. I certainly did not envisage it becoming an instant, holiday-themed, comfort-film favorite. But that's been the case. This grisly gift was a pleasure to unwrap, a ruby red love letter to both the holiday season and a high-concept horror chestnut that spans multiple generations. I couldn't have asked Santa for more.