An old-fashioned slasher movie set at Christmastime called It’s a Wonderful Knife - pretty clever, right? Yes, yes it is. The cleverness begins and ends right there, though. In the old days of B-movies, producers used to come up with an attention-getting concept and title, then formulate the actual story as an afterthought. I’m sure writer Michael Kennedy (Freaky) and director Tyler McIntyre (Tragedy Girls) put more thought into it than that. Both have done good work in the past. The film nevertheless suffers from being beholden to the Jimmy Stewart classic it derives inspiration from.
Angel Falls is a beautiful, quaint town where many of the businesses are owned by Henry Waters (Justin Long), a guy with a spray tan, bad hair, and a massive ego. (He reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite put my finger on who.) A masked, knife-wielding psychopath called “the Angel” has been on a murder spree. Teenage Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) foils the slayer, but nevertheless finds herself frustrated by a number of factors in life, including her father (Joel McHale) being a stooge for Waters. She expresses a wish that she’d never existed. The wish comes true. Winnie has to figure out how to set things right while simultaneously dealing with the fact that her non-existence allows the Angel to kill more people than they otherwise would have.
The horror scenes in It’s a Wonderful Knife aren’t bad. When the Angel first makes an appearance, it comes via a first-class jump scare. Additional murders are stylishly conceived and appropriately gory. In other words, the goods are present for viewers who like their slasher flicks bloody. There’s also an appealing performance from Widdop, who throws off “Barbara Crampton in Re-Animator” vibes here. She makes Winnie smart and likeable.
The problem is that riffing on It’s a Wonderful Life has become tired. Countless TV shows and movies have put some sort of spin on the concept of Frank Capra’s holiday favorite. Beyond the idea of using it to fuel a horror movie, not much about It’s a Wonderful Knife is fresh. Most of the characters are flat, especially Waters, who is a stereotypical lowlife business shark in a fancy suit, pressuring other people to sell him their property. We’ve seen that a billion times. No amount of hamming it up on Long’s part can make the cliché palatable.
As for the plot, it gets bogged down in efforts to create parallels between itself and the work it’s taking a cue from. The Clarence to Winnie’s George Bailey is Bernie “Weirdo” Simon (Jess McLeod), an outcast she manages to convince of her plight. There’s also Winnie’s brother, who stands in for George Bailey’s brother Harry, and her mother, who undergoes an unfortunate transition just as George’s wife Mary does. In striving to hit these reference points, the movie takes away its ability to find a pulse of its own.
By the final half-hour, It’s a Wonderful Knife grows boring. We already know what Winnie’s arc will be, so there’s neither surprise nor suspense. The concept would have worked as a fake trailer on YouTube (or as part of a Grindhouse sequel). At feature-length, it runs out of gas quickly.
out of four
It's a Wonderful Knife is rated R for bloody violence, drug use, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.