The idea of a lady-avengers update on all those classic horror tropes is sort of delicious; unfortunately, it’s undone in the end by a nonsensical script stacked with silly supernatural twists — some dark-arts hoodoo that feels all the more unnecessary when the ordinary evil of leering rape-culture bogeymen is already baked in.
At the fictional, vaguely New England-y Hawthorne College, students do what they pretty much do everywhere: go to parties, hang out in coffee shops, sort of sometimes study. Most of the sisters at a cozy-looking sorority house are getting ready to head home for the holidays, aside from Riley (the perpetually underrated Imogen Poots), Kris (Aleyse Shannon), and Marty (Lily Donogue).
They’ll stay on at the mostly empty campus, though not before it’s made clear that Riley and Kris have both already clashed with a fantastically patronizing professor named Gelson (Carey Elwes, miles from his kind-eyed Princess Bride Wesley), and that Riley once had an ugly nonconsensual run-in with a former fraternity president who’s returning to school that night for some kind of annual Greek system talent show.
At the show, the girls perform a cheeky take on “Up on the Housetop” that does not please the frat boys in attendance; soon they’re getting murderous mystery texts, and a grim reaper figure in a black hood starts claiming his victims, one by one.
This works well enough as a boilerplate cat-and-mouse game for a while, but the spirit of sly, nimble feminism is too often dragged down by clumsy plot mechanics, and the movie tumbles into sheer ridiculosity when the horror turns otherworldly. (It’s not good when a screening audience goes from laughing with to laughing at midway through.)
There’s some real raw satisfaction in the final scenes of female rage and mayhem, but there are also too many other movies — Ready or Not and Knives Out, both just from this year, come to mind — that have mined similar veins, and much better. What’s left is a sort of forgettable Christmas wisp, a black-hearted jingle bell only half-rung. C+