Just like the titular game Adam Marcus’s ‘Secret Santa’ has is awkward moments, some hits, some misses, but overall remains a fun endeavour.
The film opens with festive music, festive themes and a montage which sees our characters arriving at, what will be for most of them, their final destination – the Pope family house. Rich, and dysfunctional, the group arrive with their respective partners or in the case of one particularly repulsive young lady, alone. The film kicks into gear straight away with vulgarity, profanity and old unresolved family rifts all surfacing well before the bird is served, that said we see one bird well and truly stuffed even before the 10-minute marker. It’s at dinner, however, the fun really begins to kick off. The family play an odd version of the secret Santa game where one family member is named ‘games master’ who dishes out the presents to guests who must try to guess who bought them the gift. That said, with this family, whose closet skeletons include adultery, incest, homosexuality, homophobia and false pretences, the game was never likely to end light hearted and sure enough it takes a violent turn rather early on. With one family member well off the list for next year’s Christmas gift-list, the family turn on each other like a pack of dogs around the turkey carcass. What remains is a battle royalle style of survival with the pre-dinner threats turning into just deserts.
Whilst Christmas themed, this is an easy to recognise genre scenario, so whilst I missed the typical killer Father Christmas antagonist, I just sat back, switched my brain off and went with it!
The film is vibrant, loud and brash. Its offensive to almost everyone at every opportunity, and despite the occasional comic relief, this is not a film which appears directed at audiences outside of festival crowds. That said, it never succumbs to drowning in its own smut and debauchery no matter how hard it tries, with some good casting and some solid set pieces ensuring that no matter how B-movie certain parts are, the film is either saved with some decent violence and/or by a scene which helps put the film back on track. There is an effort to contextualise the family’s feral nature with a plot twist later in the film, but ultimately this is just a group slasher movie wrapped up in festive packaging.
The slasher elements are frequent and do a good job of making an impact with a good use of prosthetic effects as well as some tasteful use of CGI after-effects. This film is gory, and to be completely honest, if it hadn’t had been, I think it would have been something of a struggle to watch, assuming you don’t like people arguing using a whole range of liberally used profanities! (I admit, there’s some good ones in there!)
My only real bugbear with the film is, oddly, on a technical level. I can accept uneven performances, sloppy dialogue and that all to familiar sarcastic ‘geek’ humour I struggle with, putting it down to the charm of the genre, however, this film falls short on its sound capture – with entire phrases being lost to background noise with others reverberating wildly as if the whole affair was shot using onboard mics – and its editing which is dizzying to say the least. I am not sure, however, if the screener I viewed was a rough cut as it was labelled for festival screening so perhaps these bugs have been ironed out for its general release.
Overall ‘Secret Santa’ is well worth a look this Christmas as an accompanying title to those fond and more established holiday horrors. Its not perfect, and I’ve no doubt that genre fans will get more out of it than perhaps your casual horror viewer, but its fun non the less. One thing is for certain, the goings on in ‘Secret Santa’ likely to put your own family dramas into perspective!