By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Bruce Campbell, Devon Sawa and Ivana Baquero
Directed by Casey Tebo
Written by Andy Greskoviak
Beginning with the Great Cabbage Patch Kids riots of 1983 and continuing through the late-’90s Furby wars, the American way of shopping has long felt as if it is rapidly reaching a state or terminal velocity. And if you’re wondering what that not-so-distant terminus might ultimately resemble–psychologically, culturally, societally–the wry, wild new romp BLACK FRIDAY has some very specific, viscera-shellacked ideas.
The film opens with the gathering of the tribe for battle: In this case, the employees of We Love Toys on Black Friday Eve (previously known as “Thanksgiving”). Facing enemies both within–a unforgiving, profit-obsessed corporate culture personified by manager Jonathan (the venerable Bruce Campbell)–and without–growing crowds of ruthless shoppers–the staffers have plenty to contend with. And that’s before an outer-limits spawn crashes nearby and begins to transform humans into flesheating monsters hellbent on feeding.
Consummate consumers, in other words.
What follows is a kind of kinetic mashup of SOCIETY, MALLRATS and DAWN OF THE DEAD. There is a lot of pop-philosophical chatter–the intra-employee banter here is reminiscent of an old lyric by the hardcore band Refused: “I’ve got a bone to pick with capitalism…and a few to break”–plenty of nasty comeuppance served to jackasses who mistreat denizens of the “service industry,” and enough alien goo and gore to make THE BLOB (1988) helmer Chuck Russell blush.
Is it a teeny bit heavy-handed? Sure! But the trends it satirizes are so gauche and overblown that it feels appropriate, and the ensemble cast, also including Devon Sawa (FINAL DESTINATION, IDLE HANDS), Ivana Baquero (PAN’S LABYRINTH) and Michael Jai White (SPAWN), is so easy to root for that a little bit of easy moralizing amid the carnage fits the vibe. Campbell also brings a priceless level of subgenre to the proceedings. (Remember, this is not the former S-Mart employee’s first rodeo…) It’s a delightfully determined, gleefully deranged sophomore narrative feature by Emmy-winning music video and documentary director Casey Tebo, who shows here a much defter hand at weaving together his various skillsets and filmmaking specialties than in his (still quite fun) 2016 feature debut HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
One of the best aspects of BLACK FRIDAY is that it doesn’t really attempt to envision a solution to our mass psychosis. The message of the film–and, yes, I believe it has one–is that things are bad, will get worse, and the only way to triumph is to survive and remove oneself from the chaos. To Turn on, tune in, drop out, as Timothy Leary put it more than half a century ago. In a way, when you look at the surviving employees, there is a case to be made that their lives are better for the alien invasion.
After all, who wouldn’t choose a life of epic, death-cheating victory over another shift of quiet desperation?