Craig Anderson’s directorial debut, RED CHRISTMAS had all the makings of a solid cerebral slasher but sadly fails to (or refuses to) find its footing, boasting a hollow and clumsy script and feuding ideas when it comes to the core theme of abortion and religion. That’s not to say that a film absolutely HAS to make a point, but considering the premise and plot devices at play, I was expecting something with a lot more attitude and opinion.
The film commences with a bomb exploding in a hospital as an abortion procedure takes place. Amidst the ensuing chaos, the fetus is left behind … presumed dead. Fast-forwarding to the present day – 20 years later to be precise – it’s Christmas Day in Australia and Diane (played by Dee Wallace), who lives with her Down Syndrome son Jerry, has summoned her entire and EXTREMELY disparate family members for a yuletide get-together.
Not long after they get the celebrations off to a furious family feuding start, a cloaked and heavily bandaged man speaking in Elephant Man tones knocks on the door holding a letter addressed to his mother. He is ushered in out of pity at first but once he starts insinuating that Diane is his mother and that she tried to abort the pregnancy some 20 years previously, he’s swiftly booted out when the party host loses her wick.
Bad move on the family’s part and, under that destitute and feeble appearance of his, Cletus is harboring a deadly vendetta … and uncanny superhuman strength to boot. I say uncanny because the whole thing is just so terribly tough to swallow, especially when half the time there’s no knowing if Anderson’s tongue is firmly in his cheek or in a completely different zip code.
On the topic of humor, most of the verbal comedy comes in the form of Geoff Morell’s character, Uncle Joe, 99% of the time mocking the religious man in the family, Peter (David Collins). Every one of Joe’s jesting comments about religion, or any other form of mockery he comes out with just felt so contrived that it all falls flat on its face. This wasn’t helped in the slightest with some pretty painful dialogue which most of the cast just weren’t able to make good use of.
The film’s only real saving grace is Wallace. Whilst far from perfect, her sudden outbreaks of guilt and rage as the real truth starts to rear its ugly head and those closest to her start getting picked off was what managed to keep me interested until the end. Credit where credit’s due: She pulls off a great little performance considering the material she had to work with and the extremes she goes to by the end of the are certainly worth the rocky ride.
When I said that Wallace was the film’s only saving grace, that’s not entirely true. On the technical side of things, Douglas James Burgdorff’s cinematography played almost as crucial a role as Wallace. Particularly effective in adding to the tension and claustrophobia of the film was his wise use of various atypical camera angles that help keep you invested in the lackluster narrative.
Ultimately, when RED CHRISTMAS goes full-scale slasher on its audience, to the film’s credit there are some reasonably inventive kills and Anderson uses some savvy sleight of hand to cover up what I imagine budgetary restraints prevented him from achieving. BUT, all of the above is flung out of the window when the cameras dare to close in on a couple of really shoddy prosthetic props. If this were a horror romp a la DEATHGASM or BRAINDEAD then some intentionally OTT effects would be more than welcome but here it couldn’t have felt more out of place.
In closing, for a film tackling such a serious topic as abortion – and one that includes suggested viewing material on the subject in the closing credits to boot – Anderson’s script shouldn’t meander all over the place like it does. RED CHRISTMAS ultimately fails to find any form of coherence – something crucial if you want to keep hold of your audience – and I left the film annoyed. Annoyed because I’m sure Anderson could have gotten so much more mileage out of (what could have been) a really prosperous premise.
GOOD GUYS RATING:
FANTASIA 2016 – RED CHRISTMAS Movie Review