Holidays (2016) Review
An anthology of stories taking place over all the major calendar days, Holidays puts a horror spin on the family festivities with some of today’s best up and coming genre directors (plus one well-established).
There are eight short films in this horror anthology, though I hesitate to use the word ‘horror’ as none are truly scary in the traditional sense, most coming off more like twisted Twilight Zone episodes, and almost all connected by a gossamer thread to the holiday’s they claim to be part of. It’s not like the theme is even new, as holidays have long been the target of horror movies (many putting the holiday name right in the title) so right away this anthology seems unoriginal, but does it mean the stories are weak? The short answers is no, though not all of them really work. On the surface there isn’t much creativity, and the talent behind the films tend to stick to what’s worked before, with most stories featuring a young woman or girl. However, if you’re a fan of the genre, you’re enjoyment of this is going to be divided. It teases often how it could be great, but ultimately disappoints. Here’s a quick review of each.
Directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, the first segment doesn’t bode well for setting the stage, as a plumb girl on a swimming team is ruthlessly chided by the leader of the ‘pretty’ girls in the club, allowed to do so even as their clearly frustrated but silent coach looks on. The girl has a terrible crush on her coach, who has sympathy for her, and in so doing, leaves her a Valentine’s Day card in her locker, a gesture that empowers the girl to do some payback. It’s obvious, unimaginative and the least interesting.
St. Patrick’s Day
Directed by Gary Shore, the second segment is creepy, with a deranged little girl targeting her teacher with a peculiar curse. Not hiding its roots, it even mentions Rosemary’s Baby by name, as the lead become pregnant with something that is repulsive and yet a little funny. It’s a step up from the first, merely because it has a lot more audacity to do something unexpected. The ending is just weird.
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy, the third segment is easily the weirdest of the lot about a little girl who, a year after he father left, faces her first Easter alone with her mother. Trying to sleep before the holiday rabbit arrives, she expresses her fear of both Jesus and the Easter Bunny. Imagine her reaction when they both show up, as one person/rabbit. Suitably silly and purposefully blasphemous, it at least embraces the assigned holiday, and of the eight, has the most potential for a full-length film. Wonderfully directed, and viciously dark.
Directed by Sarah Adina Smith (the only woman in the group), the fourth segment tells the story of a women who gets pregnant every time she has sex, even when her boyfriend uses a condom, or two, or even three. She seeks help and ends up at a hippie-like commune with lots of freaky drugs and trippy freakouts where she is made to be the host of a demon child, repeating the same theme of St. Patrick’s Day. It looks great but doesn’t really bring any surprises. Nice jump at the end, though.
Directed by Anthony Scott Burns, the fifth segment is the anthology’s standout, a story of a young woman who receives a box in the mail with a cassette tape from her father, who she thought had died decades before. Starring Jocelin Donahue as Carol and Michael Gross (in voice only) as her father, this tension-filled clip builds great suspense and a palpable sense of terror with a curious ending that isn’t expected and could lead to some discussion. Just short of great.
Directed by Kevin Smith, the sixth segment is the weakest (slightly) of the series. Mean and ugly, it features a nasty pimp in charge of three young women who work as ‘cam girls’, all of whom who have had enough of his aggressive behavior and belittling attitude. Forming a coven (because it’s Halloween), the three take a little revenge on their boss using a car battery, jumper cables, superglue, a vibrator, and a kitchen knife. A sudden and jarring shift to torture porn, the segment feels slight, and lacks the creativity or sense of dread the most natural holiday for horror would seem able to conjure, setting itself apart from the others far too much.
Directed by Scott Stewart, the seventh segment brings us to the end of the year with a father (Seth Green) desperately trying to get a gift at the last minute, a pair of VR glasses that shows you, you. It reveals whatever your deep, inner thoughts and actual actions reveal. But if you’re not logged out, you can see what others have seen. Finding those glasses isn’t easy and he makes a fateful choice in getting a pair that ends up changing his life, maybe for the better, but then, maybe not. The funniest of the set, this is far from horror and feels the most like something from Tale from the Crypt. A good effort that doesn’t quite have the impact or twist it should.
New Year’s Eve
Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, the final segment is your basic madman meets his match, with a twist that really is no twist. Perhaps losing its steam simply because of its position in the lot, by the time we celebrate the new year, we’re too exhausted for it to matter. While the leads are good, the plot is obvious and it’s just a matter of how gruesome it can get before the final fight between two characters we both want to lose. Well directed, and creepily acted, it just has no heart and given the short time frame, lacks any hope for investment. It does have Lorenza Izzo though. That helps a lot.
Holidays feels like an audition tape of up and coming horror auteurs, and indeed, a few of these segments have some great work behind the camera. Nicholas McCarthy’s Easter has some very chilling moments, and creates a fascinating character that feels worth revisiting. Sarah Adina Smith does some nice work with Father’s Day, despite the story, giving great weight to the story’s man character with some impressive camera work. Everyone brings something good, but all fall a little short, mostly due to the time constraints, which should naturally leave us in a state of ambiguity, but only Easter and Father’s Day really accomplish that. An ambitious project, Holidays just misses the mark but is still well worth watching, simply to see these horror innovators come together. Perhaps if they weren’t tied to a theme, there might have been more they could have done. As it is, there are a few good chills but mostly it remains a noble but flawed experiment.
Directors: Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kolsch, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Scott Stewart, Dennis Widmyer, Ellen Reid