Hardly the kind of Christmas Bing Crosby was singing about, Red Christmas takes great delight in desecrating the jolliest time of year. Craig Anderson’s feature debut is a wonderful mix of oxymorons and devilish twists on what we’ve come to expect from something that should be as simple as your regular slasher film. Christmas and horror just seem to go so well together, and maybe we have Dickens and lots of twisted european folklore to thank for that. Even family friendly stuff such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Muppets Christmas Carol, don’t shy away from injecting fear into the season of goodwill to all men. But besides being horror, Red Christmas also wants slices of the comedy and social commentary pie.
We begin at an abortion clinic protest, where an explosion killed many doctors and patients. However, one child survived their abortion and was found in a bucket of biohazard material. 20 years later and I’m sure none of that prologue will come back to haunt anyone. Instead we now follow family matriarch and widow Diane (Dee Wallace), settling in with her family on Christmas day. They’ve all come together including Diane’s 4 children; the pregnant Ginny (Janis McGavin), wife of a priest Suzy (Sarah Bishop), art student Hope (Deelia Meriel), and Shakespeare loving son Jerry (Gerard Odywer). They are soon visited by Cletus (Sam Campbell) a man wearing a full cloak with bandages on his face who wishes to deliver a letter to his mother and understand what exactly Christmas is.
The first thing to note is how the film mixes expectations and set-up. It’s a Christmas film, but being set in Australia it’s all very hot and sunny. As a Christmas fanatic that was the scariest part for me. On top of that we meet our potential victims, where some have clearly been used in a way to have us ask “Surely they wouldn’t kill them?”. Ginny’s pregnant, but in an extra twist is quite unlikable and confrontational. Meanwhile Gerry has Down’s syndrome. Would a film kill either such character? It makes it more fun waiting to find out.
Once the violence hits, it’s a delightful mix of sickly gore and creative deaths, but none ever feel gimmicky. The humour that Craig Anderson takes from his comedic background, is a pleasant addition of sarky remarks and backchat, as well as uncomfortable mutterings. Seeing what roles characters end up playing in their fight for survival is also a joy, again often flying against expectation. Anderson knows not to overdo it though, with certain characters filling generic roles. It makes the small little breakaways from tradition all the more fresh.
Surprisingly it’s when Red Christmas, an obvious cheap slasher film, starts to tackle some serious issues that it really excels. Looking at themes of family and abortion, Anderson makes us understand such arguments against and why people make certain choices. It becomes emotionally powerful for a brief moment at the end, just before putting implements where they shouldn’t be put.
A nice bit of slasher fun, Red Christmas pushes itself past certain hurdles and constraints, but stumbles at others. When it tries hard it really impresses, making you wish that it had been more confident in truly breaking new ground. There was also a distracting technique of using Christmas lights to light many scenes towards the end, making for distracting colour where actions were not always clear. It does hold great promise though and will certainly be found under someone’s tree this year.
Red Christmas screens as part of 2016’s Fantasia International Film Festival programme.
Find all our of Fantasia 2016 coverage here.