The Movie Waffler Arrow Video FrightFest 2018 Review - SECRET SANTA | The Movie Waffler

Arrow Video FrightFest 2018 Review - SECRET SANTA

secret santa review
A family Xmas dinner turns bloody.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Adam Marcus

Starring: Michael Rady, Drew Lynch, Debra Sullivan, A Leslie Kies, Ryan Leigh Seaton

secret santa poster

You’d have to admit that there is something very sinister about Christmas. Aside from the unsavoury implications of an old man clambering into the rooms of sleeping kiddies, the uninhibited greed of the season, and the fact that the entire concept is founded upon the assault of a virgin by an actual ghost, there’s also the retro-active nature of the festival: every Christmas is the same, a repeat of years gone before, and a preview of the decades to come, an amaranthine bubble with the past, present and future collapsing into one insistent saturnalia where anything goes.

No wonder that the horror film has such a close association with Christmas, with a seasonal cash-in even founding the slasher genre, along with various Silent Night, Deadly Nights and the perennial Gremlins. The Christmas film should always be treated with critical caution though, as this is the part of the year where our quality control goes right up the chimney. "Ah, forget it, it’s Christmas," we say as we shove another chocolate into our mouths, "only comes once a year," as we chuck money at various knick-knacks, "Christmas innit?" as we sit through some crap or another on the telly. A dispensable time for disposable films; but is Secret Santa a novelty stocking filler that just suits the season (the Black Christmas remake, say), or a gift you’ll cherish long after Twelfth Night (Better Watch Out)? Slight spoilers follow…

secret santa review

The real pain in the arse of Christmas is the family gathering. Having to turn up/host, keep everyone sweet/entertained, all the while maintaining the nearly impossible balance between amiable conversation and talk that doesn’t tip into interdicted topics such as politics, money and family skeletons (never mind the sherry on top). And with that, meet the Popes, an extensive family of grown-ups who are converging on a rather lovely pile upon a snowy lake for the turkey-with-all-the-trimmings dinner which provides the setting for Secret Santa.

Fortuitously, the various Popes fall into distinct personality types: there’s the priapic would-be alpha (we’re introduced to him receiving oral sex while slapping his GF on the bottom during the car journey to the house - ☹), the frumpy one, the nervy stutterer, and, naturally, the very pretty and nice one who has a rocky alcoholic past which she’s attempting to overcome. The problem with this family is that from the off they’re a bunch of annoying dicks and apparently have been for some time. We find out very soon that the stutterer hides his homosexual relationship with a black man (who is a part of the affluent Pope’s service staff) due to Mom’s homophobia and racism, that Mom has shagged her step son, and Mom’s sister has had it off with pops, etc. What a crew! They’re hysterical (regrettably, in the literal sense meaning ‘affected by wildly uncontrolled emotion,’ rather than amusing) from the first moment they meet, and their bitchiness takes on increasingly unpleasant heights during the meal, culminating in a couple of them reaching for the forks and stabbing each other in the necks to death (the relief!).

secret santa review

Spoiler - the reason for their increased hostility is the punch bowl, which has been spiked by one of the Popes with an unholy truth serum that provokes the dosed-up with an unkempt urge towards the candid before they ultimately boil to death from the inside due to the fatal properties of the poison - yikes! The question is, who has drunk the punch and how monstrous will they become?

During the latter half of the plot you sort of see what the film is aspiring towards, as there is a pointed moment where a character invokes The Thing (a line involving a chair, being tied up and a particular season), aligning Secret Santa with another snowy, paranoid romp where the infected are unknown and dangerous. Indeed, when the characters go full on freak-out it also reminded me of outrageous comic Crossed, with the film’s gory excess suited to the tone created, and I must admit that I started to feel a bit Christmassy towards the end of the film.

secret santa review

But the movie settles into this groove too late in the day, when we’re all but full up and bloated with the antics of this tiresome family. Let’s not forget that The Thing’s events are set in motion by the misguided kindness of a man refusing to shoot a dog and pause to wonder how effective Secret Santa would have been if the Popes had been a dysfunctional but basically decent bunch whose politely repressed confidences had been more carefully and compassionately revealed. Instead a base reliance on shock tips the tone of the film into an exhausting would-be gonzo excess from the first moments; this is a film where lines like "every girl and boy needs some black dick" are belted out with juvenile glee - oh how shocking, etc. A garish gift: if you happen to receive Secret Santa under your tree, you’ll be asking if the giver kept the receipt.

Secret Santa will receive a home entertainment release in November courtesy of FrightFest Presents.