Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Justin Price
Writer: Justin Price
Producer: Justin Price, Khu, Deanna Grace Congo, Jennifer George Hall
Stars: Natassia Halabi, Gabriel Miller, Lisa May, Lassiter Holmes, Viviana Ozuna, Amy Jo Guthrie, Joseph Daniel Ellis, Pat Turner, Margareta Fratila
A cursed elf doll stalks a troubled man and his fiancée’s family on Christmas Eve.
“The Elf” brings to mind an episode of “The Simpsons” where Mr. Burns has Homer’s power plant pals star in a corporate video that runs off the rails. After Lisa points out oddities in the short film’s ridiculous narrative, Homer offers the defense, “well, there were script problems from day one.” “Didn’t seem like anyone even read the script,” Lisa responds. Homer quickly counters, “that was the problem.”
We can’t be certain about everyone, but we can at least be sure whoever typed the end credits didn’t read “The Elf’s” script. Otherwise, s/he would have known that the character credited as ‘Robert Conway’ is clearly called ‘John Conroy’ within the film. Ditto ‘Marcus,’ whose spoken name is really ‘Jeremiah.’
And who is actor Les Best, who receives fifth billing for playing someone named ‘Delmar?’ I just finished watching the film not long ago and have no inkling of who this person is, nor do I recognize him from his headshot. Whether this is a failure of the film or of my short-term memory, this gap speaks to how well “The Elf” holds attention spans.
I don’t know if “The Elf” had a full script or just an outline from which actors adlibbed awfully. Either way, I believe that whatever was on paper, the cast only saw those pages mere moments before their scenes were shot. That’s the most plausible explanation for why it looks like everyone is making up the movie as they go along.
Killer elf doll takes his sweet time taking down a traumatized man and his fiancée’s pancake-flat family on Christmas Eve. That’s essentially it. A few nuggets of nonsense offer some context to the curse, which has something to do with a toymaker sealing children’s souls in dolls, but supernatural creatures on some sort of hunt drove the town into despair before he could finish whatever he was up to. A ‘Naughty’ list of future victims is in the mix too, with a caveat that one name can be removed somehow.
That’s a lot of someones, somehows, and somethings. That’s because “The Elf” doesn’t even try to make sense out of its half-baked premise. I could go into detail about silly story beats and absurd staging that has everyone disappearing inside a small house for preposterous periods of time, enabling the doll to off everyone in single file fashion. But “The Elf” doesn’t expend enough effort to deserve detailed attention.
Instead, I’m inclined to reduce criticisms to a ‘Naughty’ list of notes. Let’s get this over with so we can forget “The Elf” as soon as possible.
· Shots repeatedly fall out of focus.
· Improper lighting and an overexposed iris fill the screen with milky images, with one instance of glare being so particularly poor, you can see smudges on the dirty lens.
· Music sounds like those tone tests you used to take in grade school to check for hearing deficiencies.
· Ten carolers show up to serenade the family, yet only three or four voices are heard, and they happen to be the worst singers this side of “American Idol” round one auditions.
· Sloppy makeup prosthetics aren’t the same color as anyone’s skin, including one little girl who can’t keep her eyelids still while feigning unconsciousness.
· One actor has evidently never held a champagne flute before, presenting a glass of wine to another person as if gripping a football.
· Painful performances come from people you’ve never seen before and will never see again. If you do, hopefully they learn how to not look directly into the camera next time.
Dead air lingering between every line of dialogue smothers the film in excruciating silence. To that point, “The Elf” has no sense of how to edit for pacing as every action goes on for four times longer than necessary.
The first post-prologue sequence features the main couple, Nick and Victoria, browsing an antique store for ten laborious minutes. When they next encounter the doll back home, Nick stares at it until Victoria takes it away. Nick continues staring at nothingness until the couple moves to the couch to stare at the doll together. How can anyone not suspect this as stalling while characters/actors wonder what to do next?
One scene of the elf breaking out of a wrapped gift box goes on for what seems like five minutes. Suspense evaporates in the first few seconds, replaced by sympathy that the poor doll is having such a hard time completing a simple task. It’s like watching a confused puppy trying to escape after being mummy-wrapped in a large beach towel.
While that would be cruelly inhumane for the animal, it would be more entertaining to watch than this movie, which is cruelly inhumane against viewers. It’s not like anyone has unreasonable expectations for a microbudget DTV slasher like this. But it shouldn’t be too much to hope “The Elf” would play like a holiday-themed installment of the “Puppet Master” series. In a way, it does. Unfortunately, it’s far closer to the throwaway cash grab crap of current Full Moon movies, not the likably low-budget chills and charm of their 80s/90s heyday.
Review Score: 15