The Elf Review: Leave This Elf on the Shelf

Starring Natassia Halabi, Gabriel Miller, Lisa May, Lassiter Holmes, Les Best

Directed by Justin Price


Only the beginning of October and yet the Christmas decor is already out in full force at stores. Halloween only gets 31 days. Yuletide season, for whatever reason, runs about three whole months now. Seems fitting I find myself just days into the month of October and already I have my first lump of Christmas coal in the form of The Elf.

An evil “Elf on the Shelf” movie; it practically writes itself. I rather wish it had because I suspect it would have written itself a better movie. I was really looking forward to The Elf after viewing the trailer but that “Tales from the Crypt”-ish vibe the preview was selling does not reflect the actual film, sadly.

A man inherits a cursed elf doll that begins appearing on his shelf bringing with it a naughty list of names of those he all knows doomed to die. Those people form a dysfunctional extended family who find themselves trapped in his house during a blinding blizzard (that comes and goes depending on the scene) on Christmas Eve, shades of Michael Dougherty’s Krampus.

The Elf falls squarely into the category of a good premise done in by simply lousy execution. The key word to describe just about everything wrong with this Christmas clunker would be lethargy. The direction proves tedious bordering on ponderous at times. The inexcusably prolonged opening sequence with oddball Nick and his wet blanket fiancé Victoria finding the elf in an antique toy shop features so many pauses, so many moments of actors on the screen neither saying nor doing anything, I kept wanting to yell “Line!” or “Action!” at the screen. The first thirty-plus minutes are so devoid of momentum I’d be willing to bet a tighter production could have covered the same ground in ten. The very thing for which the film is named does hardly anything for nearly half the movie.

Equally lethargic are the actors, particularly the two leads, who often sound as bored as I felt. Performances are pretty unconvincing all around, made worse by the characters being so flimsy their accents are usually their only defining trait and how much they disdain they show towards each other, particularly Nick.

Nobody wants Victoria to marry Nick because they think he’s a mental case or they just dislike him in general. Hard to argue. He’s not likeable. But then neither is she. Neither is anyone. The Elf that murders everyone is the most relatable character.

Nick hates Christmas. He suffers night terrors (technically, shower terrors) stemming from a childhood trauma. Heck, he finds a sinister looking elf doll with instructions about killing people that magically marks his skin and he barely reacts to this with anything resembling a human emotion. A better reason why these two shouldn’t marry would be that they so lack in romantic chemistry I never even believed they were friends much less lovers.

I can already hear some of you saying, “Who cares about the story and characters? How were the kills?” How a homicidal plaything dispatches its victims is what you’re watching for, right? The answer to “how are the kills” would be few, frequently off-camera, not terribly inventive nor gory, and definitely not frightening. Like Child’s Play, the cackling, knife-wielding elf doll uses its diminutive size to get all stalky and stabby on people. Having actors wrestle with a lethal action figure is something Charles Band has been doing for decades, usually to better effect than here, and not just because those effects were better.

Looking like a pale Twilight vampire version of a Hermy the Elf from “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, this Rankin-Bastard has all the makings of something Andre Toulon would have carved up for A Very Puppet Master Christmas. The uncanny valley movement of the computer generated elf used for a few scenes in which we see it walking and stalking proves surprisingly eerier than the pale-faced Christmas Keebler Elf doll. The elf isn’t the problem. What little is done with the elf is the problem.

The best scene has the elf magically controlling Christmas lights to terrorize some annoying carolers. A fun moment, but nothing else like this happens before or after, in both tone and use of supernatural powers to unleash Noel hell. This whole scene felt tacked on. It felt like a scene from a completely different, more light-hearted, Leprechaun-ish take on the material.

Have I mentioned that this movie about a murderous “Elf on the Shelf” takes itself far too seriously without actually being scary or creepy? The Elf is neither scary nor fun. Just a tedious slog that squanders a great premise on a talky yawner.

If you want an enjoyably wacko low budget holiday horror movie about elves seek out the nutzoid 1990 z-grade masterpiece entitled Elves AKA the movie with Dan Haggerty as a chain-smoking department store Santa trying to prevent a Nazi elf from mating with a virgin to spawn the Antichrist.

Leave this elf on the shelf.

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