With a cast that includes horror icons Devon Sawa and Bruce Campbell, as well as action star Michael Jai White, Black Friday promises a fast-paced gorefest. This low-budget horror comedy from Casey Tebo satirises rampant consumerism and worker exploitation in a way that recalls Romero’s classics. However, does it deliver on its potential?
Sawa plays Ken, a worker at a Toys R’ Us-style store on the eve of Black Friday, the most profitable (and stressful) retail event of the calendar year. The film opens on a montage of his colleagues being forced to leave their families’ Thanksgiving meals and trudge to work in a depressive haze. Ken is older than most of the employees in the store, and is jaded enough to keep a stash of liquor on hand to make things more bearable. In contrast, Chris (Ryan Lee) is a new employee, with his spirit not yet crushed by the monotony of the store. Together with the rest of their dejected team, they prepare to welcome a wave of rabid customers. However, the arrival of mysterious meteorites brings about a change in these shoppers that turns their shopping frenzy into a lust for blood.
With Bruce Campbell cast as store manager Jonathan Wexler, and the setting of a big box store, we were anticipating some clunky fan service. Fortunately, the script refrains from having Campbell say “Shop Smart” at any point. Rather, it allows his natural charisma to shine through, and provides him with some of the meatier dialogue. Having been set up as the token smarmy villain, he eventually allows us to see how alienated he is by his role as the big boss. There is a complete disconnect between the toxic positivity of the company’s messaging and the way it treats its workers. Wexler’s job of putting a pleasant face on the exploitation of his colleagues weighs heavy on him.
A less redeemable villain is provided by Stephen Peck, whose casually cruel and self-serving floor manager character is truly despicable. It’s a strong comic performance, with Peck recognising exactly what the script requires of him and delivering it with real relish. Michael Jai White, on the other hand, is completely undersold, and it is a real mystery why the film cast a famous bone-breaking action star only to give him so little to do. Fans expecting to see zombies dispatched in a flurry of roundhouse kicks will leave disappointed.
As for the zombies themselves (if zombies is the correct term for people mutated by the attentions of interstellar blobs of glowing mucus), they are pleasingly gunky. The make-up and special effects departments have really gone to town, and the results are impressive, particularly for a film with a limited budget. That said, there is a lack of urgency and ambition to the direction. As a result, the visuals aren’t showcased to their full effect. For a film that will draw comparison with Sam Raimi‘s work, it could really benefit from his frenetic directorial style to bring a bit more energy to its action scenes.
The script has some genuinely funny moments, particularly in the early scenes before we have truly established that we are in a zombie caper. When dead bodies are assumed to be the work of crazed customers or disgruntled employees, the absurdity serves up some great one-liners. However, the script is patchy, with as many misses as hits, and few of the zingers are memorable.
All in all, Black Friday would make a diverting entry in a schlocky B-movie marathon. Unpretentious and occasionally heartwarming, with strong performances from the cast, it is an entertaining romp with a few stand-out moments. Ultimately, while a good time is to be had sloshing about in the blood and guts, it is unlikely to stick in viewers’ minds, and few will probably return for a second helping.