IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE Review: A Slasher For the Holidays

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE Review: A Slasher For the Holidays

The Hallmark Channel has turned the holiday season – specifically, the months-long Christmas season – into an incredibly lucrative all-year affair. Numbers-wise, Lifetime Channel isn’t too far behind.

Both rely on formulaic plots, inexpensive, fungible talent on both sides of the digital camera and enough snow, real and otherwise, to blanket small countries. They’re also not-so-clever advertisements for the relentless consumerism that has defined late-stage capitalism, making them easy targets for satire or parody.

Add a slasher motivated by a combination of bloodlust and unfettered greed and the result looks, sounds, and feels like writer Michael Kennedy (Freaky) and director Tyler MacIntyre’s (Five Nights at Freddy’s, V/H/S99, Tragedy Girls) holiday slasher, It’s a Wonderful Knife.
True to the punny title, It’s a Wonderful Knife borrows plot and premise from perennial holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, focusing on a deeply unhappy, disaffected teen, Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop), who makes a fateful, life-upending wish on a bridge on Christmas Eve. Like her predecessor almost a century ago, George Bailey (James Stewart), Winnie simply wishes she was never born.

For Winnie, oblivion (i.e., suicide by another name) would answer all of her problems, real and perceived. Instead, she doesn’t vanish from existence but finds herself in a parallel, alternate universe where she was never born. Life without Winnie turns out to have been much, much worse, if not for her, then for everyone around her.
Before, however, we get to the obligatory scene on the bridge, the Winnie we meet in the first moments isn’t particularly unhappy with her life. In fact, all seems copacetic.

She lives in a modest, relatively comfortable upper-middle-class home in the small town of Angel Falls thanks to her real estate broker father, David (Joel McHale), has an attentive, loving mother, Judy (Erin Boyes), and enjoys a positive, affectionate relationship with her younger brother, Jimmy (Aiden Howard). The starting quarterback for the local high school team, Jimmy is also out and proud, supported by everyone around him.
While Winnie’s home life qualifies as idyllic, the town’s mayor, Henry Waters (Justin Long), suggests otherwise. With his gleaming white teeth, dyed hair, and perpetual good cheer (all of it fake, of course), Waters figuratively and literally represents an existential threat to Winnie and her family.

Even on Christmas Eve, Waters arm-twists David into accompanying him to visit a recalcitrant homeowner, Roger Evans (William B. Davis). The latter refuses to sell his home, hoping to pass it on to his granddaughter and Winnie’s soon-to-be-fridged best friend, Cara (Hana Huggins). The Evans home naturally stands in the way of Waters’s dream, a major redevelopment that will transform Angel Falls from a small, quaint town to a regional hub for consumerism at its worst.
It's not long before Winnie and Cara, off to a Christmas party, encounter It’s a Wonderful Knife’s slasher-villain, a knife-wielding, white-robed killer in a featureless mask. Cara shuffles off her mortal coil before Winnie activates her own personal hero mode and dispatches the killer. Unfortunately for Winnie and the town, the masked murderer’s demise only comes after and not before a killing spree that leaves a trail of dead bodies behind, including Cara and her boyfriend.
That kind of traumatic experience would be more than enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for the Christmas holidays, but a year later, the town of Angel Falls has moved on, leaving Winnie to wallow in despair. With her family ignoring her needs, the end of a romantic relationship, and a rejection from her college of choice, Winnie makes the fateful wish. In the new world Winnie enters, not only is she a complete stranger to everyone she meets, but the masked killer hasn’t stopped slicing and dicing their way through the town’s dwindling population, impressively amassing a body count in the process.
Kennedy and MacIntyre eventually answer why the town’s inhabitants just haven’t packed up and moved elsewhere, but until they get there, It’s a Wonderful Knife follows Winnie’s quest to stop the killer again and return to her timeline. After multiple failures, Winnie enlists the help of the town’s “weirdo,” Bernie Simon (Jess McLeod). A desperately unlucky, unhappy pariah in both universes, Bernie immediately vibes with Winnie’s seemingly outlandish story, becoming an ally and even friend in the process.
Feverishly mixing and matching slasher tropes along with the blueprint provided by Frank Capra's holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Knife hits familiar story beats, offering few narrative surprises except in the various interactions between Winnie and Bernie and/or Winnie and everyone else. A perfectly cast Widdop gives Winnie enough depth and dimension that it makes Winnie’s arc believable, even as the story hits one implausibility road bump after another. McLeod delivers an especially noteworthy performance as the droll, deadpan Bernie, suggesting a switch in perspective or point-of-view from Winnie to Bernie could have succeeded just as easily.  
If anything, Winnie and Bernie spend too little time together onscreen, but that’s true of practically everything in It’s a Wonderful Knife in general. Budget limitations meant a rushed production schedule and while the results onscreen never look cheap (far from it), it often feels like entire scenes were left out.

That holds true of the slasher’s scenes too. While generally well-staged, the killer’s appearances tend to end only moments after they’ve begun. Outside of the killer’s first appearance and possibly two others, he’s often pushed to the sidelines, to be feared in the abstract than in Winnie’s reality.
Still, for all its limitations, It’s a Wonderful Knife still manages to deliver the kind of holiday-themed horror mixed with just the right amount of humor, meta-parody, and social critique (obvious to some, non-obvious to others) that should thrill and chill audiences for holiday seasons to come. 

It's a Wonderful Life opens Friday, November 10, in movie theaters, followed by a December 1st release on Shudder on AMC+ and VOD.

It's a Wonderful Knife

  • Tyler MacIntyre
  • Michael Kennedy
  • Jane Widdop
  • Joel McHale
  • Justin Long
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Aiden HowardErin BoyesHana HugginsJane WiddopJoel McHaleJustin LongKatharine IsabelleMichael KennedyTyler MacIntyreWilliam B. DavisComedyHorrorMystery

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