Red ChristmasReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/10/16 12:36:47
SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Some movies and filmmakers try and sneak their controversial subject matter in quietly or spring it on the audience later, distracting the audience with blood and guts (or the hallmarks of another genre) with the hope that the other ideas will sink in a little deeper that way. Craig Anderson is having none of that with "Red Christmas", rubbing the audience's face in a touchy subject from the start, backing off just enough so that what comes next seems like even more of a minefield, and what comes after that is not just impressively vicious but perhaps worth a moment or two's consideration between the uses of sharp objects.It's not looking like a great Christmas before that, though the last one at the old family home, with Diane (Dee Wallace) selling it to spend her golden years traveling with second husband Joe (Geoff Morrell). Maybe that's what brought all the children together, even if Virginia (Janis McGavin) and her husband Scott (Bjorn Steward) expecting seems very unfair to sister Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her pastor spouse Peter (David Collins). Already there are Jerry (Gerald Odwyer), loud but fairly functional for a 23-year-old with Down's Syndrome, and Hope (Deelia Meriel), Diane's only child with Joe, set to start art school the next year. Then there's Cletus (Sam Campbell), who shows up with his face behind a shroud and drops a bombshell. And when he's not accepted...
The audience doesn't quite forget the prologue while this family drama is going on, but it's a relatively bold one, opening with a look at just how charged emotions were around abortion about twenty years ago - as contentious as it is now, there seems to be less outright violence than the attack on a clinic caps the montage in truly queasy fashion. Cletus's origins give the film a charge on two levels, the first being that it plugs into something that has real-world resonance, impressively doing it without overtly falling on one side or another (Cletus represents both the righteous and indiscriminate rage of anti-abortion activists). Anderson has also built his cast of characters so that Cletus's injection into the party reinforces the existing family tensions, ratcheting up the tension in a scene whether or not Cletus is a direct threat at that moment, planting mines that can explode in any manner even if Anderson were to do a fake-out that had Cletus exiting early.
Whether or not he does, the film is filled with nasty kills, many of them inventive but nearly all bloody and brutal in how the folks that the audience really likes never seem to go quickly but suffer before the end. It is, as these things are reckoned, quality slasher-movie material, using many buckets of fake blood and gruesome make-up and finding incentive ways to murder people with the materials that are on hand rather than simply finding a favorite weapon and repeating it. Mostly, though, it works because despite there being a few wrong place, wrong time victims, the weight of a family's secret roaring back to destroy all it was meant to protect its never far from the fore, taking on a monstrous inevitability and a paralyzing toll on the family.
None feels that toll harder than Dee Wallace's Diane, although the fact that she has lived through a great many trials in her life means that she is also going to be the one who winds up front and center fighting. It makes Wallace an unconventional horror heroine, but she's terrific throughout, the fierce protector but no martyr even if she does feel everything that Cletus does as if it were happening to her. Is easy to see how Diane and Joe complement each other as a couple, even if Geoff Morrell does initially seem to just be playing her as an older man who likes his weed. Sarah Bishop and Janis McGavin capture their characters being sisters as much by how instinctively divided they are as by any similarity. David Collins is a surprising MVP as the reverend, pulling off both the mild-mannered minister and the guy who is more of a rock than you might expect. And special mention must be made of Gerald Odwyer, who gets a lot more to do than show the filmmakers' good intentions in casting someone with Down's to play Jerry; he becomes a pivotal character with a crucial scene working because he does a heck of a lot more than just show up, quietly making the audience understand just what kind of anger he must be feeling.This sort of thing doesn't cause "Red Christmas" to transcend its genre - it is a slasher movie that feeds horror fiends a bunch of red meat. It's at least one with some bite beyond the gore, and well-made enough to be interesting rather than just exploitative. It's using what is often a shallow thing in smart ways, and exciting for it.
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