Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Anthony Scott Burns, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Scott Stewart, Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Producer: Aram Tertzakian, Kyle Franke, Tim Connors, Adam Egypt Mortimer, John Hegeman
Stars: Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Rick Peters, Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey, Ava Acres, Petra Wright, Mark Steger, Sophie Traub, Aleksa Palladino, Jennifer Lafleur, Jocelin Donahue, Harley Morenstein, Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Lorenza Izzo, Andrew Bowen
Eight stories tell horrific tales set around holidays including Halloween, Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, and St. Patrick’s Day.
Holiday horror films have an inherent problem of pigeonholing themselves into a particular month on the calendar. Something like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” works any time of year, but “Silent Night, Deadly Night?” You could watch a killer Santa Claus movie outside of December, but why would you want to?
“Holidays” seems to smartly eliminate such seasonal limitations by combining eight unique holiday horror stories into one feature-length anthology. Ironically, its year-spanning theme ends up with an inverse issue of not tying into any relevant viewing window at all.
Think about how “Halloween” and “Trick ‘r Treat” come out of their cases and go into the home video player every October. Unless someone inexplicably craves a New Year’s Eve-set horror story in July, when will it ever spring to mind to watch “Holidays” in its entirety again?
That’s a small bump for the film when it faces a larger hole in the field up ahead. From one writer/director to the next, every story starts with a confident stride and full sprint only to bobble the ball before crossing the goal line. The real hurdle for “Holidays” is that while each segment is exceptionally cinematic and conceptually strong, not one of them ends on a particularly memorable highlight.
“Starry Eyes” (review here) masterminds Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer start off with “Valentine’s Day,” where lonely heart misfit Maxine’s daydreams of Coach Rockwell are routinely interrupted by bullying diving teammate Heidi. A misinterpreted greeting card gives Maxine the confidence to finally act against her aggressor in gruesome fashion, bringing “Valentine’s Day” to a climax good for a quick, wicked smile that doesn’t necessarily leave a lasting impression.
Gary Shore of “Dracula Untold” (review here) moves to the month of March with “St. Patrick’s Day.” As is par for the course in “Holidays,” camerawork and cutting are stylish, the rhythm is entrancing, and acting is excellent with Ruth Bradley descending her character perfectly into Amanda Plummer-esque obsessive madness over an unusual pregnancy. Then the segment culminates with a centerpiece prop so ridiculous, it looks like it came out of an elementary school play.
I’d criticize the sudden inclusion of a circle wipe for the final transition except its “That’s All Folks!” nature further highlights the cartoonish conclusion. “St. Patrick Day” had me fully onboard until its ending, when I could not jump off the ship fast enough.
“Easter” is immediately recognizable as belonging to Nicholas McCarthy, director of “The Pact” (review here) and “At the Devil’s Door” (review here), with its subtly slow camera creeps and patient editing complemented by deep earth tone hues and deeper shadows. McCarthy’s smoldering style is already not everyone’s cup of tea, but his merger of the Easter Bunny’s birth and Jesus Christ's death may further distance some viewers.
As someone raised Catholic who had similar childhood difficulty discerning the relationship between Christ’s crucifixion and Sunday morning jelly beans, I enjoy McCarthy’s cynically sinister fusion of both tales. Others might find it offensive, though the risk taken in depicting a grotesque Easter Bunny wearing Jesus’ crown of thorns is too twisted to not admire.
“Mother’s Day” continues the “Holidays” trend of artfully crafting intensity that cannot hit its landing without bouncing off the pavement. Filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith puts together a terrifically dreamy and visually hypnotic scenario concerning a woman who cannot have sex without getting pregnant. Then it ends in a manner where the only sensible reaction is confusion regarding the piece’s potentially higher purpose.
I assume there is an interpretive meaning behind “Mother’s Day,” though I’m not in tune enough to guess what it might be. I reviewed the final frames more than once and I have no explanation as to why two of the women observing what happens drop their jaws while the other pair expresses no reaction at all. Was the outcome expected or not? What was the outcome?
Anthony Scott Burns’ incredibly moody “Father’s Day” is both extremely eerie and utterly heartbreaking. With strokes that are ominous as well as sentimental, Burns and actress Jocelin Donahue paint a portrait of a woman struggling to reconnect with a father presumed dead for decades. Once again, the buildup is far superior to the boo at the end, though the journey getting there is satisfyingly spooky, even if the conclusion isn’t.
Kevin Smith’s “Halloween” may as well be called “Arbor Day” since it has about as much to do with October 31st as it does with trees. That’s actually a valid quibble about “Holidays” as a whole. With the exceptions of “Easter” and “Christmas,” none of the shorts are required to take place on the days in their titles. “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day” have themes related to parental bonds for example, but they aren’t irrevocably tied to the holidays. That is, unless being set in Ireland and having to do with snakes are qualification enough for a “St. Patrick’s Day” segment.
In Smith’s defense, although his segment is billed in the credits as “Halloween,” he previously stated his title was/is “Hollow Ian,” a limp play on words referencing his piece’s main character. Such an expectation-breaking approach is all well and good on its own, except it doesn’t mesh with the literal tones everyone else took in the other seven segments. As a result, “Halloween” stands out as a raunchy revenge romp recognizable as Kevin Smith’s, but its focus on sex humor and humiliation isn’t in step with the rest of “Holidays.”
“Christmas” contains the closest thing to a “Tales from the Crypt”-type twist as any chapter in the anthology, and is one of the more entertaining and fully-realized bits in the bunch. “New Year’s” has a slight EC comics vibe too, though “serial killer meets his match” is a played out plot point, resulting in a punchline that concludes “Holidays” on as unsurprisingly unspectacular of a note as the other entries.
“Holidays” is worth a watch for anyone interested in short form filmmaking from some of the finest contemporary creators in genre entertainment. Interesting ideas and unique talents are evidenced everywhere in all eight segments, and the attempts at exceptional artistry deserve to be applauded. If only the stories took their suspenseful setups to captivatingly creepy conclusions instead of frustratingly mediocre ones, “Holidays” could have been a classic good for any time of year.
Review Score: 60