Come In for Savings
Fair or not, when you put Bruce Campbell in a movie, there are certain expectations for how that film will play out. Famous, of course, for his role as Ash Williams in the Evil DeadStarted as a horror cheapie to get the foot in the door for three aspiring filmmakers -- Raimi, Tappert, and Campbell -- Evil Dead grew to have a life of its own, as well as launching the "splatstick" genre of horror-comedy. series, Campbell has had a number of starring, and supporting, roles that have played to his style. Brash, big, goofy, and with a certain bold charisma that belays (or highlights) the idiot within. Take his roles as Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep, Autolycus, King of Thieves in the Hercules franchise, or as Brisco County, Jr. in, well, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. That's the Bruce Campbell people expect. Advertise a movie as having Bruce Campbell, and we're going to want a certain kind of film.
The issue with Black Friday isn't that it's concept is bad. It has a concept that plays perfectly to the expectations of why you'd put Bruce Campbell in this film. No, the issue is that the script and direction aren't able to meet the promise of that idea. Black Friday is a film that, via it's own conceit, promises a strange and goofy adventure to suit anyone's B-movie desires. In function, though, the film fails to come together in any satisfying way. It's wasted potential, pure and simple, and it's just sad for everyone involved.
On the morning before Black Friday (i.e., Thanksgiving morning), a strange object blows into the All-Mart department store. An employee goes to investigate the strange object, only to immediately get infected by, well, whatever this thing is. Later that day, after dropping his kids off at their mother's, Ken (Devon Sawa) heads to his shift at We Love Toys, a toy store that will be open through the night for early Black Friday sales. He's joined in his shift by neurotic germaphobe Chris (Ryan Lee) and girl he's kind of, sort of seeing, Marnie (Ivana Baquero). The three plan to hep each other through this terrible night of retail shopping.
There are two issues with the retail extravaganza. First of all, their boss, Jonathan (Bruce Campbell), plans to work them to the bone without any breaks, bonus pay, or benefits. Two, that weird object that blew into All-Mart has, apparently, been infecting various people as they go into that store, and those people have been going around town, infecting others, until they all seemingly congregate at We Love Toys. Now the crew of employees have to deal with alien creatures and infected employees, all what trying to figure out what these things want and what their ultimate plan may be. It's going to be a very long, very dangerous Black Friday, to be sure.
There's a certain enjoyable stupidity to the concept of brainless alien automatons invading a retail shop on Black Friday. Anyone that has had to work retail on that day knows full well how brainless and zombie like the deal-shoppers can be. Doorbuster deals will lure the worst of the worst Karens into store, and hen you have to deal with their constant need to consume, as well as their terrible attitudes, for hours on end. If you want to see the worst of humanity, go work retail on Black Friday. It'll give you a whole new perspective on, well, everything.
If that was the perspective that Black Friday followed, I think it could have been a real winner. Some kind of mix of sci-fi conceit with Evil Dead gore and violence would have been the perfect send up of the retail zombie apocalypse that is Black Friday. Unfortunately, the film is never really able to commit to the bit. It's neither gory, nor violent, nor bombastic enough to really sell the over-the-top nature of its concept, and that leaves it feeling pretty shallow and empty, all things considered.
For starters, the film doesn't really have any gore. There are a few moments of decent creature effects, but nothing that really feels scary. There's no real blood, no good viscera. You want some maulings, or some disembowlings, or anything to make you feel like the alien creatures are a real threat. The film can never find that edge, and thus fails to bring the scares at all. These are supposed to be monsters but, frankly, they never feel very monstrous at all.
Couple that with the fact that it's never really clear what the aliens want. There's some vague idea that they're "building something", some sort of collective hive, but because the aliens are brainless zombie-like creature, there's no real communication from them to show why they're a real threat. The scope of the movie is small, contained within the store itself, so the apocalypse aspect never really lands. What we need, if we can't see the scope, is to have some kind of intelligence, a central figure, like the screaming Deadites in Evil Dead, or Grant Grant in Slither, so we can actually get some story from them. That doesn't happen, and so the monsters never really land properly.
But then, the film fails to find the goofy edge it needs to at least be funny. The movie feels like it's modeled after those other films, Evil Dead and Slither, conceptually, but those films were able to bring a dark, sardonic, hilarious edge to the proceedings. In comparison, Black Friday feels flat. Empty. There's no edge to it, no over the top creature effects that make you laugh in delight (even as you're disgusted). It's a hollow experience that can't bring the fun.
I feel bad for the cast that stars in this film because they're trying, they really are. Sawa, who starred in some great horror flicks like the first Final Destination and the delightfully goofy Idle Hands is a perfect fit for a film like this. He can do dumb, goofy, and scary films, and if the film had brought any of that you have to feel like e could have nailed the lead role. Lee has the right reactions as the perpetually disgusted with everything around him Chris. And while Marnie isn't a very fleshed out character, essentially just being the cute love interest, Baquero has solid charisma in her role, making you wish there was more to her.
Worst of all, though, is that the film absolutely wasts Campbell. The actor can handle a film like this with ease, finding humor in the dumbest of scripts. His part, though, is as the evil, humorless boss, and there's nothing fun about the role. Campbell has charm to spare which is absolutely wasted on this void of a character. You have to wonder why Campbell was cast in this role if they were going to give him something that really didn't suit him or his body of work. Again, it's a waste of potential.
I tried to go into Black Friday with an open mind and appreciate the charms it had to offer. It has a good cast, with a couple of horror heavies, as well as a solid concept that could have been great. The execution, though, is absolutely lacking, leading to a film that really isn't worth the time and effort it took to create it, let alone the time wasted watching it. The film is a real disappointment.