Secret Santa
"A natural crowd movie."

Family Christmas celebrations are frequently fraught - for some people more so than for others. When separated parents who hate each other, plus their resentful adult children and the children's partners (one of whom is officially there as a caterer to keep a gay relationship secret) assemble in a mountain home, it's obvious that a few sparks are going to fly. Quite how much blood will be involved, however, may come as a surprise. The clandestine addition of a 'new form of sodium pentathol' to the punch prompts the one thing that's always forbidden at such gathering: the honest discussion of feelings.

Adam Marcus' seasonal shocker hinges on a game of Secret Santa in which each guest receives a present and everyone has to try and guess who selected it. Although most of the gifts seem quite generous, they are not all warmly received. The early part of the film works well, with snappy dialogue and a believable family dynamic. Just when it's starting to get really entertainingly vicious, however, words turn to blows, and after the ensuing crazed melee it never quite recovers its balance. What follows is a desperate attempt by those surviving to figure out what to do any how to escape a situation in which some individuals have clearly lost their grip, as slowly but surely they lose their own. Whilst continuing to blame one another, of course.

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What may come across like chaos is very well planned. Each character has a well worked out storyline that can be traced through the whole film, and there are a myriad little clues as to what exactly is going on and who's responsible. This doesn't mean, however, that the violent scenes provide enough immediate focus for viewers to follow what's happening to different characters in the moment, and at the point of the fist and most complex scene we simply don't know them well enough to connect with what's happening emotionally. Dramatic potential is sacrificed for action that doesn't exert the same grip. Marcus responds to this by continually endeavouring to up the ante, but the result isn't really as shocking as he'd like to think. The film suffers from problems with sound quality and lighting which stand out because there's no enough going on thematically yo distract from them, and clumsy editing (probably the result of a tight shoot and insufficient cut-away material) make it all look rougher than it needs to.

All this said, many horror fans will still find the film great fun. It has its share of genre homage moments, which work surprisingly well and don't detract from the story. It's a natural crowd movie, fun at festivals and ideal for parties where there's quite a bit of drinking going on and everyone is already in a silly mood. The staging of many shots seems designed to elicit audience participation. Given the obviously low budget, the quality of the special effects is impressive, and although there isn't really anything here that hasn't been seen before (death by Christmas star excepted), it's all put together with infectious enthusiasm. Despite the general unpleasantness of the characters it is possible to develop sympathy for some of them over time, and there are a couple of charismatic performances that make for fun viewing even when there's nothing sympathetic about them at all.

Secret Santa isn't going to make it onto the Christmas horror A-list, but if it's a fun B-movie experience you're looking for, you could do a lot worse.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2018
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The Pope family’s Christmas Eve dinner goes horribly and hilariously wrong when someone puts something in the party punch causing everyone to tell the unvarnished truth at the already dysfunctional holiday reunion.

Director: Adam Marcus

Writer: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan

Starring: Michelle Renee Allaire, Petra Areskoug, Scott Burkett, Melissa Corkern

Year: 2017

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US

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