A Christmas Horror Story


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Christmas Horror Story
"It's properly scary in places and it's also lots of fun."

If you're not a fan of temporally transgressive tinsel and precocious partridges in pear trees, and you're frustrated by the way that Christmas keeps creeping closer and closer to Halloween, you might take some comfort from that fact that in this case it has done so in spirit as well as in time. A worthy heir to the likes of Rare Exports as a deliverer of seasonal scares, this is essentially a belated Halloween anthology with snowflakes and fir trees. It's properly scary in places and it's also lots of fun.

Traditionally anthologies like this are tied together - if at all - by the conceit that they're all happening in the same town or all being recounted as stories around the same campfire. This film has elements of that, but it's the clever way its stories are woven together, with some links not becoming clear until the very end, that raises it above most similar work. William Shatner is the anchor, playing a heavy drinking radio host with a sinister edge to his practised charm that recalls some of the actor's very early, pre-Kirk work. Meanwhile, three teenagers explore the basement of their school, where mysterious murders occurred the year before; a family drive out into the middle of nowhere to visit an elderly relative who doesn't want to see them; another family unwisely enter a restricted area of forest in search of the perfect Christmas tree; and a tough talking Santa Claus suspects his elves have fallen prey to a zombifying plague. The stories are intercut so we gradually see events escalate in each of them, though the bulk of their narratives remain separate.

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This is a film that isn't afraid to kill kids but that is also willing to countenance happy endings, making it pleasingly unpredictable. Whilst parts of it lapse into cliché, other parts of it provide more than one sort of chill. Oluniké Adeliyi delivers the standout performance as a mother desperately trying to save her little boy, and George Buza makes a suitably charismatic Mr Claus. There's a Grimm aspect to the stories that brings together ancient folk tales with modern urban legends, passing sly comment on the nature of modern horror narratives, whilst the relationship between the supernatural and 'real world horror' is teasingly explored. Although not every tale has comic aspects, the whole is well leavened with humour, and its more overtly playful stretches never lose their undercurrent of darkness.

When you've had about all you can take of festive cheer, A Christmas Horror Story is ready to introduce a dose of festive fear that will make you all the more grateful for a warm home and family - because you never know what might be waiting in the dark outside.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2015
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An anthology of fearsome festive tales.
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Director: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan

Writer: Jason Filiatrault, James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier

Starring: William Shatner, George Buza, Zoé De Grand Maison, Caprice Bauer, Rob Archer

Year: 2015

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Canada


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If you like this, try:

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale