Have you ever wondered what Black Friday is like for retail workers? As you can imagine, it’s a pretty intense experience. But what if the irate customers weren’t the biggest problem, but a mysterious, possibly alien invasion of undead creatures hellbent on destruction was thrown into the mix? Well, if finding out the answer to that question sounds enticing, Black Friday might be the film for you.
Black Friday follows the lives of a group of employees at a toy superstore on the busiest day of the year, immediately following Thanksgiving. However, this is no ordinary Black Friday, as instead of hordes of angry, chaotic shoppers, the staff have to deal with an army of zombie/alien type creatures intent on destroying their store, and possibly the human race. Led by Ken (Sawa), a heavy-drinking divorced Dad, a group of underpaid and overworked colleagues have to work together to overcome the invading force to try and survive the night.
One thing that immediately helps Black Friday massively is the stellar cast. Devon Sawa is more than serviceable and is pretty convincing in his role of Ken, the underachiever who has settled into the milieu of working in retail even though he is clearly unhappy. His relationship with Marnie (Ivana Baquero) feels a bit underdeveloped, beyond their back-and-forth before the main events of the film get going, which undercuts the emotional element of their story. Marnie seems a bit sidelined, especially with her story taking a backseat to Chris (Ryan Lee) and Ken’s dysfunctional quasi-father-son relationship. Still, that main trio is incredibly likeable, which provides a nice counterpoint to the uptight floor manager Brian (Stephen Peck) and the corporate-minded supervisor Jonathan (Bruce Campbell) who are more concerned with the fate of the store than the impending apocalypse. Bruce Campbell, who also served as a producer on the film, is almost unrecognisable here, but does a great job bringing the weaselly corporate slave to life with a surprising amount of warmth and humanity in the process. If I had one complaint, it would be the one-dimensional nature of the Archie character, which seems a shame for the super-talented Michael Jai White, who could certainly have offered a lot more to the film with an expanded role.
Pacing is often an issue that tends to hamper movies like Black Friday, with too much time focused on the set up and not enough on the turmoil created by the situation, or indeed the reverse of that issue with not enough time taken to establish the Zombie threat, and too much time spent on the character development of the would-be victims. Black Friday manages to get that balance right, with enough reasons given to care about the key characters, but also plenty of time devoted to establishing the threat they face and the seriousness of the situation. At a suitable running time of 84 minutes, Black Friday never runs the risk of outstaying it’s welcome or trying to be more expansive or clever than it needs to be.
It goes without saying that the allegory of shoppers as Zombies is a little on-the-nose. However, Black Friday doesn’t attempt to do anything fancy or subtle. From the opening minutes you know that it is designed to be a darkly comedic B-movie, with a dash of satire and plenty of silly moments and a lot of outlandish, unrealistic gore. The special effects are mostly very well done, and although the root cause of the zombie outbreak (or the nature of it in any wider sense) is never covered, the narrative works because it is largely self-contained to the toy shop. If anything it might be hampered by the location at points, and perhaps there might have been room for a bit more creativity with the zombie fights in making use of the toys within the shop. Having said that, Dour Dennis is the star of the show on the toy front, and creates some memorable moments that helps bring lots of levity to a fairly dark situation and really makes the whole thing work. It’s silly and fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
No-one is suggesting that Black Friday be viewed through the same prism as an Oscar-winning epic, or a Shakespearean tragedy, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of your time. For those who enjoy the zombie sub-genre of horror, and especially for fans of cult classics like The Evil Dead or Severance, Black Friday is a lot of fun while also putting a fresh spin on a pretty tired genre, which is surely never a bad thing. Think Superstore-meets-Dawn of the Dead and you’ll be in the right aisle to to find Black Friday.
Black Friday is available now to watch on digital platforms