Cinema Reviews

Secret Santa (2017) Review

It’s the end of August and another Frightfest is upon us with a whole new slew of horror films to soak up. Another great opportunity to showcase new talent of the good, the bad and the downright ugly, as well as disgusting from around the world. Every now and again the Christmas spirit is turned into Christmas Evil and Secret Santa (2018) can be added to the canon of festive related horror films. Previous entries have included the cult slashers Christmas Evil (1980), Silent Night, Deadly Night and Don’t Open till Christmas (both 1984). In 2008, the British film, The Children (2008) was one of the better examples as two families spend the festive holidays together in a nice remote country house in the middle of nowhere and snowed in (it rarely ever snows at Christmas in the UK). One of the children becomes ill on Christmas Eve, turns nasty until it affects all the other kids who turn into murderous creatures of pure evil.

Indeed, Secret Santa is fairly close in its story to The Children, which still remains an underrated chiller. One of the main differences between the two is the normal families of the earlier film to the completely dysfunctional one in this new offering. We are introduced to each character of the Pope family as they drive to their uptight Mom’s (Debra Sullivan) for the festive period. April (A. Leslie Kies) is traveling with her serious boyfriend Ty (Michael Rady), pre-warning him on the way that her mother is difficult, confrontational and downright rude. Brother Jackson (Nathan Hedrick) is highly sexed and we are introduced to him receiving head from his stripper girlfriend while driving to Mom’s. There is also Kyle (Drew Lynch), a nice kid with a stutter, not helped by Mom constantly mocking him. Added to this there is also the bitter Penny (Ryan Leigh Seaton) and the unexpected arrival of their father (John Gilbert), still loathed by the mother.

Once the family sit down for Christmas Eve dinner, things get bitter and nasty jibes between the family, filled with accusations and the traditional family game of secret Santa. This is where it gets weird when the honesty turns violent, taking us back to the opening scene of a Christmas family fight with snowballs and Christmas baubles flying around. Someone has perhaps spiked the punch and turns everyone violent and worse is to follow with murder, decapitations, pusa boils appearing and lopped off fingers. It is hard to see the moment this changes in the film given the dysfunction of the family.

Secret Santa has moments of a well written use of funny material, others of just gross out horror (with a little too much CGI in places) and over the top sexual jokes and visuals that are desperately unfunny. It’s directed by Adam Marcus, who had previously made Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) who also co-wrote the film with Debra Sullivan (who previously wrote Texas Chainsaw 3D, 2013) who also plays the Mother here. The film has the look of one of those many 1980s/90s Christmas films that can only be deliberate and once again ironic. Add to that the omnipresent use of Christmas music. The film is irreverent and has to be praised for just going for it with the laughs and the spilled blood. For those looking for an anti-Christmas film for the 2018 Holidays should look no further.

Chris Hick

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