Red Christmas (2016) [Fantasia review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-07-27 06:20

Written and Directed by: Craig Anderson
Directed by: Robert Wise
Starring: Dee Wallace, David Collins, and Geoff Morrell

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

This Christmas, the only thing under the tree is terror.

Itís a clichť, but spending the holidays with family can be an ordeal. Iím lucky enough that itís not completely awful, but election years can be especially awkward and tense (letís just say I am dreading this yearís holidays since we may or may not be at the dawn of President Trump). But no matter what happens, I can safely say that my (and hopefully no oneís) holidays will be as fucked up as the one in Red Christmas, an Aussie bit of Yuletide hack-and-slash that provides more evidence that everythingís a bit screwy Down Under. I mean, itís weird enough that their Christmas takes place during summer monthsóimagine what itís like when they introduce an axe-wielding psycho into the mix.

Not that itís altogether clear that this is actually taking place in Australia or anything since Dee Wallace plays a very American matriarch (natch) who is thankful to be able to spend one last Christmas in her family home before heading off to Europe. Her (very Australian) children and their spouses have arrived full of drama: one is super pregnant and due to give birth eminently, while the other, more reserved sister has been trying in vain to have a child of her own. Another, younger daughter is a moody teenager looking to get the hell out of dodge as soon as she can. Naturally, this tension only adds to the familyís festering issues: having lost their father some years earlier to cancer, the children are hesitant to see the family home sold off, and the slightest trigger puts them at each otherís throatsóand this is before a bizarre, masked stranger arrives at the house bearing a cryptic message.

Audiences know that this strangerówho is covered from head to toe and speaks in an obscured, almost garbled tongueóis bad news before he ever arrives at the familyís doorstep since his earlier introduction climaxes with him planting a strangerís face on a buzzsaw. What they donít know is why exactly heís hellbent on targeting this family, though a prologue set 20 years earlier provides more than enough clues. Red Christmas barely feigns at being any sort of a mystery, nor is it even really all that invested in the drama that unfolds beforehand, either. More than anything, itís mostly concerned with carving a blood-stained path straight through the home, and it seems like nobody is off-limits, including the mentally-handicapped son.

As a slasher, it certainly meets the expected quota of blood-and-guts with its various bisections and skewered heads. Writer/director Craig Anderson ruthlessness towards his characters translates to generosity for an audience looking to be drowned in splatter. I wouldnít go so far as to deem Red Christmas an over-the-top exercise in splatstick, but itís not difficult to sense that Anderson is primarily concerned with blood and gore. Obviously, that is more of an observation than it is a criticism, especially since this is an inventive enough slasher with a nasty little mean streak.

That said, there are times where you find yourself wondering just how much youíre supposed to delight in these proceedings. Sure, some of these folks are real jerks, but you canít help but reserve some measure of sympathy for the poor, beleaguered mom, the sweet son, and the poor daughter who just wants to have a baby. As such, itís a bit jarring when the film takes on an almost comedic, silly bentóI sometimes found myself torn between really enjoying the carnage and acknowledging that, hey, this is pretty fucked up. You just donít hack up an entire family on Christmas. Itís bad form.

ďBad formĒ might be exactly what Anderson aims for with Red Christmas, though. Thereís perhaps no other way to explain why heíd wedge in some clumsy musings on abortions (the entire prologue is set in the backdrop of a clinic being bombed), which is some heavy shit for a movie that also features a maniac named Cletus stabbing his victimsí eyes out. Anderson isnít exactly making any grand statements on the issue, but a nearly-aborted son coming back to exact revenge on his mother is loaded with some obvious subtext that goes unexplored in favor of a constant torrent of bloodshed. Whatever serious thoughts he would have on the issue would be undercut by the fact that Cletus is an outrageous, ridiculous looking movie monster once heís revealed. (This is a compliment, by the way; in fact, I wish we saw more of this terrific latex nightmare instead of the fleeting glimpse Anderson allows.)

I donít know that Red Christmas will be slotted in my (purely hypothetical) annual rotation of Christmas slashers. Itís (weirdly) fun enough, and Anderson shoots the hell out of it: once the film goes into pure stalk-and-slash mode, nearly every shot is captured from one dynamic angle or another, perhaps apropos of nothing other than ďit looks cool.Ē And thatís okay--sometimes style is substance, particularly when dealing with slashers. Letís face it: this isnít the most substantial sub-genre, so you could do worse than to infuse it with a neon-bathed, candy-colored aesthetic thatís evocative and appealing. Appropriately, the film looks like a Christmas wonderland, one thatís twisted into a bleak, gore-soaked nightmare for a lean, mean 80-minute bloodbath. Sometimes, itís nice to have a perfectly functional slasher movie, and Red Christmas fills that void with a more than adequate amount of severed body parts. Plus, I cannot in good conscience dismiss any film that gives Dee Wallace the opportunity to go nuts in a bonkers showdown against a malformed, nearly-aborted man-fetus.

Red Christmas premiered at the Fantasia Film festival earlier this week.

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