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Review

It’s a Wonderful Knife (2023)

Remember, George: no man is a failure who has a body count

As someone who loves both It’s a Wonderful Life and high-concept slashers, there was no way I was not going to watch It’s a Wonderful Knife. (I also basically pitched this exact movie as one I’d love to see when brainstorming high-concept slashers in my Freaky review; thanks to ED for putting it on my radar.)

The concept is pretty nifty on the surface, but not as elegantly fun as the gimmicks of Freaky or Happy Death Day: Winnie (Jane Widdop) successfully takes down a masked, Ghostface-esque killer called The Angel after just a couple of deaths, including her brother (Aiden Howard). The identity turns out to be local magnate Henry Waters (Justin Long). A year later, Winnie is still haunted by that night, especially her brother’s death, while the rest of the town wants to just move on. In a fit of holiday despair, she wishes she was never born and gets transported to a dimension in which The Angel is still on a year-long murder spree. Only by re-un-masking him with the help of friendly outcast Bernie (Jess McLeod), the only one who believes her story, can she return to her own timeline.

If that sounds like a lot of exposition and setup for an 87 minute movie, it sure is. We’re almost a third into the film before the un-birthing. The movie hits its climax just as the promise of the premise locks into place. But it still doesn’t feel like enough legwork: It ends up serving a nice reminder of how well It’s a Wonderful Life works by limiting its supernatural twist to the final act because we’re so invested in the characters by then.

The film is thin soup in almost every way. It is perhaps worst as a slasher, with only one or two genuine moments of tension, some stupidly abrupt violence, and horrible, disorienting editing. (The movie genuinely looks as ugly as its horrible poster for most of the runtime.) It’s no better as a PTSD examination or character study. The one interesting character twist, revealed in the third act, has promise, but is undercooked and pandering.

I had high hopes for it as a Christmas movie and It’s a Wonderful Life parody, but it falls short there, too. It name-checks Clarence and George Bailey (no Zuzu that I can recall). “The Angel” appears once or twice with the ring of a bell, which is a twisted little joke, but the references barely go farther than that. Winnie does elatedly run through town when she returns back home at the end, which is a gimme.

One element I do like and wish the film would have teased out even more was the depiction of the dystopia in the alternate reality: Like Potterville, it has an expressionistic, speculative bent, here reminding me of the famous 1984 Apple ad, with a creepy movie house and some mind control imagery. (Downside: it’s impossible to take Justin Long seriously as a cult leader.)

Ultimately the film’s charm boils down to how much one is able to forgive its flaws by the sheer nature of if its wacky pitch. For me the answer is “a lot” and I still think it’s a pretty big bummer.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

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One reply on “It’s a Wonderful Knife (2023)”

Ooof, it’s always sad to see an excellent title wasted on a fairly underwhelming production: I wonder if STARTING in the Dystopia would have been wiser – with the lead character someone who has to decide whether this complete stranger with a weird James Stewart fixation is delusional or straight-up incredible – or at least allow for a more interesting ‘Horror Movie’ twist on the premise.

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