2023 | rated R | starring Jane Widdop, Justin Long, Joel McHale, Jess McCleod, Katherine Isabelle | directed by Tyler Macintyre | 1h 27m |

Watching existing fantasy genre movies be retrofitted into slasher movies has been kind of fun. It goes from the highs of Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day and Freaky to the lows of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey and this year’s blah sleeper hit Totally Killer. The underlying them being that you can just mix and swap these genres around and birth something new. But not all high-concept ideas can be turned into slasher movies, as evidenced by this slasher spin on the Frank Capra 1946 Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Knife. 

But the good news is, in the process, we’re going to get to talk about how great It’s A Wonderful Life is.

Mayor Henry Waters (Justin Long) wants to put the town of Angel Falls on the map by building a high tech new town center. Plans that get derailed when a killer dressed in all white like an angel tree topper starts murdering people. When her brother is attacked, Winnie (Jane Widdop, Yellowjackets) saves him and stops the killer, but a year later nobody cares and nobody remembers that she saved the town so Winnie wishes upon the Northern Lights that she was never born, sending her into an alternate Angel Falls where the killer was never found and still strikes on a regular basis.

Nothing about this mash-up is particularly clever or funny and like most creators of these kind of mash-ups they aren’t really concerned about being a suspenseful or fun horror movie either. It’s a quick-fix irony bullet. The fun thing is comparing this movie to the structure of It’s a Wonderful Life, which by necessity reverses the set-up and payoff structure of the film. In Life we are told we’re about to hear a story of a man who wants to take his life, then are taken through the ups and downs of all of it, from childhood crushes to professional failures – eventually leading to a prolonged cosmic 3rd act where all those little vignettes and details pay off. It sets up a living, breathing world before flipping that world on it’s head.

Knife doesn’t have that luxury, with the limitations of being a fast and loose 90 minute slasher movie, it needs to get to the gimmick early, developing Winnie, her family and town a bit before immediately flipping us into alternate reality. In Life, because the set-up is so involved and immersive we have forgotten it’s going to turn into a suicide story before it does and, like George Bailey, miss all the little ways the first time around that his life impacted others. In Knife Winnie saves the town from a serial killer in the first act and why she suddenly wishes she was never born isn’t delved into much in the race to get to the gimmick, so it’s obvious what her impact on the town is and she has no lesson to learn to overcome this Twilight Zone curse.

The rest of the film plays out like the equally lame Totally Killer, with Winnie running around an alternate universe with unique knowledge of who the killer is trying to undo history, but the film has no interest in creating suspenseful set pieces around them (like truly gripping Christmas horror films like Inside, Black Christmas or Gremlins). The cast is delightful however and there is some charm in that. Justin Long absolutely steals the movie, hamming it up as the smarmy town mayor and we get several other favorites here like Joel McHale and Katherine Isabelle given almost nothing to do.

The film’s finale also gets bumbled by how it rewires Capra’s film to step away from the spiritual aspects. Because it’s 2023, this movie can’t be made about a Guardian Angel sent from Heaven to save a praying man’s soul, so instead Winnie wishes up the Northern Lights. Without a personified guide to state the rules of this universe, the film flails along trying to figure out what vague symbolic act would appease… the Northern Lights into reversing the curse. It’s one of those things that probably sounded good at first and upon approaching the finale writes the film into a corner.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a rich film, charming, funny, well performed, visually dynamic and off-trend optimistic. You’d have to be made of stone not to be swept up in it’s finale even 77 years later. Frank Capra fully realizes a man’s life in a small town, snow-driven post-war Americana, confronts those hardships and spins it in a glass-half-full light. Even in material ruin, no man is poor who has friends and family. It’s a direct counter to 2023 America where we are told that material wealth is all that drives happiness and that the haves and have nots should be pitted against each other.

This movie is a title in search of a story. You can watch It’s a Wonderful Knife, it’s snarky, looks washed out and doesn’t take advantage of it’s concept, or you can enrich yourself with a Christmas classic. From a movie standpoint, that’s one of the wonderful things about Christmastime. It’s a season when time folds together and all Christmas movies, past and present, can be viewed all at once. From the 1969 Frosty the Snowman cartoon to A Muppet Christmas Carol to classics like Christmas in Connecticut, The Shop Around the Corner, The Thin Man, the Alister Sim or George C. Scott Christmas Carol or Capra’s alternate-reality masterpiece.