Horror contemplates in great detail how young people handle inordinate situations and all of life’s unexpected challenges. While the genre forces characters of every age to face their fears, it is especially interested in how youths might fare in life-or-death scenarios. The column Young Blood is dedicated to horror stories for and about teenagers, as well as other young folks on the brink of terror.
Spending the holidays alone presents its own unique challenges, but for the main character in Kristy, this one Thanksgiving away from loved ones is unlike any other. Justine (Haley Bennett) simply wanted to get through the next few days without any trouble. Now all she can hope for is to make it out alive.
As Bennett’s character picks out her Thanksgiving dinner from a vending machine, a nearby TV announces another female college student has gone missing somewhere in the country. Justine then returns to her own reality; her boyfriend Aaron (Lucas Till) has left for home while her roommate Nicole (Erica Asher) has made a sudden change in plans. Being stuck in the dorms for the holiday break sounds unbearable enough, but Justine’s real problem begins when she goes off campus on Thanksgiving night. An ugly encounter with a stranger (Ashley Greene) turns into a full-on fight for survival.
Kristy plays on the implicit loneliness that comes with festive holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those fortunate enough to have close family and friends might find it difficult to understand what it truly feels like to be alone. Especially at a time where the sense of belonging is both encouraged and incessant. Thanksgiving especially sets high expectations for cheer and closeness that, more often than not, are impossible to meet. For instance, college students are expected to go home for Thanksgiving, but the reality is not possible for people like Justine. A plane ticket is too expensive for someone whose enrollment hinges on financial aid.
Justine then denies Aaron and Nicole’s Thanksgiving invitations for similar but different reasons. She does not get along with Aaron’s family because, from the sound of things, they look down on her. She assumes her being there would only spoil the fun. Meanwhile, Nicole’s father, a politician, has postponed campaigning to take his family to Aspen. Justine turns down Nicole’s offer to tag along because she knows “family’s family.” In both cases, Justine feels a smidge of relief not having to go through with the performances intrinsic to Thanksgiving.
Kristy goes to considerable lengths to show Justine is different from those around her. Aaron and Nicole come from money, but unlike their mutual friend, they do not pay their own tuition. And while she might get along with most everyone, Justine feels more at ease around campus support like herself; particularly her dorm’s security guard, Wayne (Mathew St. Patrick), and the groundskeeper, Scott (James Ransone). It is only when Justine steps outside of herself does she get noticed by the wrong people.
Before Nicole takes off, she gives Justine the keys to her BMW so her roommate can at least leave campus. The temporary escape from her isolation — not to mention the fact of her social standing — only welcomes terror, though. Justine’s altercation with Greene’s character, a troubled townie by the name of Violet, puts a target on her forehead. Although the audience knows Justine is far from being a rich girl, Violet and her companions assume the contrary based on the Bimmer outside and a hard-to-miss college jacket. Aside from Justine’s mistaken wealth, Violet is set off by her disposition. Justine extends her student discount to the stranger at the gas station when trying to deescalate a tense situation, but Violet interprets this gesture as patronizing. Like a witch cursing her enemy, Violet then dubs her mark “Kristy” before storming off.
It does not take long before Violet and her accomplices storm the campus in search of Justine. As shown throughout via flashbacks and flashforwards, this type of event has happened before and will likely happen again; college-aged women are going missing under mysterious circumstances. The news reports their disappearances without any sort of cognizance, but the movie’s audience knows the truth from the start: Violet and her ilk are part of a cybercult that carries out ritual murders. Their aim to kill God involves destroying his followers; young, white women designated as “Kristy” — a name meaning “follower of Christ” in Latin — are singled out because of their various privileges. And as far as Violet can tell, Justine meets the requirements.
The empty college campus becomes a labyrinthine battleground where Bennett’s character is chased down by her disaffected pursuers. What Kristy lacks in a high body count it makes up for in mood. The majority of the action is carried out with little to no dialogue, so the level of tension is high. Also on display are the callbacks to Justine’s abilities as seen earlier on. From holding her breath underwater in a pool to paying close attention in chemistry, Justine is better equipped to handle this scenario than most. There is no slowing down even as the movie reaches the imminent yet empowered conclusion of the story. The final clash is as volatile as it is gratifying.
Revealing the villain’s entire M.O. seems off-putting for those viewers wanting more mystery, but it sets up a great example of role reversal. The victimizers become the victims. Anyone anticipating a rehash of The Strangers with a scenery change will be pleased to know Kristy is more distinct than its basic premise suggests. The post-ending credits scene also provides optimism in an otherwise bleak movie.
Slashers by and large are not known for their ambitious narratives. Fans are very forgiving on that front but still appreciate when an entry adds something new to the subgenre without sacrificing what draws them in in the first place. Olly Blackburn balances classic and progressive ideas while making the script’s sacrilegious sentiment more digestible. The elements inherent to a good old-fashioned slasher are there along with a cult angle to push Kristy over the edge from safe to formidable.