Roger Ebert Home

It's a Wonderful Knife

If you put Nancy Drew in a teen slasher take of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you’d get the bloody yet spirited “It’s a Wonderful Knife.” More than an assemblage of its familiar parts, director Tyler MacIntyre’s film intensely opens with Henry Waters (Justin Long), the self-absorbed real estate agent of the quaint small town Angel Falls, angling to acquire a historic home owned by the area’s patriarch Roger Evans. The small patch of land is the only obstacle between Waters’ aims of building Waters Cover, a soulless retail venture. When Evans rebuffs Waters, a white-robed killer arrives, slitting Evans’ throat and later murdering his granddaughter. The brainy Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) eventually electrocutes the slasher to death, revealing his identity to be Waters. 

Though the mystery is solved a quick ten minutes into the film, this, of course, doesn’t spell the end for the Angel killer or Winnie’s problems.

It’s difficult to think of a story more copied than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but somehow, someway, screenwriter Michael Kennedy finds a distinct spin. A year after the murders, the picturesque Carruthers family led by David (Joel McHale) is the gem of the town; meanwhile, their daughter Winnie is still spiraling in grief. Overlooked by her family, rejected from college, and mourning the death of her best friend, Winnie wishes to the glowing Northern Lights that she was never born. That desire, however, brings back the killer and alters the face of the town. 

There are other obvious references to the Frank Capra classic, but it wouldn’t be fair to this film's ingenuity to enumerate them. MacIntyre plays with and subverts expectations. When the murderer returns, for instance, we think we have a slight window into the future, like with Capra's melodrama. But this script is smart enough to upend things for an unexpected twist that isn’t confined to the need for suspense but arises from sturdy character development, too. 

That isn’t to say the teen slasher aspect takes a back seat. Lately, there’s been a return of the genre: Just this year, there’s been “Totally Killer,” “Perpetrator,” and “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.” In its brisk 87 minutes, “It’s a Wonderful Knife” economically carves up the milieu of these young cliques and relationships. The characters who appear—jocks, mean girls, and outsiders like Bernie (Jess McLeod)—aren’t an arrangement of tropes but real humans with real interior lives. Long is a fantastic villain, pulling his best Walter Goggins impression, while the slasher design of an opaque white plastic mask is an inspired choice. It must also be said the foley artists have so much fun, particularly with the frazzled crunch and crackle of the electrocution scene. The jump scares, admittedly, don’t pop as much as you’d like. But if you’re trying to keep that pure Capra idealism, you almost don’t want the scares to be too visceral. 

If there are any other shortcomings, it’s Winnie. Despite Widdop’s best efforts, Winnie is caught between being George Bailey and Nancy Drew, a cipher that bounces from scene to scene, set piece to set piece, without conjuring up any unique attributes. Still, Widdop displays a necessary wide-eyed curiosity and urgency to keep you engaged. 

Even by the film's end, when MacIntyre is unabashedly on the nose, the reference points do not invite cynical eye rolls. His sincerity, which takes a turn into being a queer love story, walks adjacent to a saccharine line without tripping over. “It’s A Wonderful Knife” has plenty of attributes—charm, blood, and angst—that should fit right in at any family holiday gathering.   

Now playing in theaters. 

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

Now playing

What Remains
The Watchers
MoviePass, MovieCrash
I Saw the TV Glow
In a Violent Nature

Film Credits

It's a Wonderful Knife movie poster

It's a Wonderful Knife (2023)

Rated R for bloody violence, drug use and language.

90 minutes


Jane Widdop as Winnie Carruthers

Jess McLeod as Bernie Simon

Joel McHale as David Carruthers

Katharine Isabelle as Gale Prescott

William B. Davis as Roger Evans

Justin Long as Henry Waters

Aiden Howard as Jimmy Carruthers

Erin Boyes as Judy Carruthers

Sean Depner as Buck Waters

Grace Vukovic as Tara






Latest blog posts


comments powered by Disqus