Sint (Saint) (2011)
Written and directed by Dick Maas
I suspect if it wasn’t for Rare Exports – a new modern classic as far as I’m concerned – coming along this past Christmas setting the bar so high, there’s a good chance I may have enjoyed Sint (“Saint” for all of us English speaking folk) even more than I did. If not for both films coming out so closely together it would be easy to accuse Sint of ripping off Rare Exports given both films feature old bearded Santa-like figures showing up at Yule-time to kill and abduct children. Whereas Rare Exports took a more ambitious and restrained Spielberg meets Stephen King approach to the material, Sint is perfectly happy being a blood-soaked holiday fruitcake baked with bits of Sleepy Hollow, The Fog, and Halloween.
Let’s make one thing clear: This is not a killer Santa movie. In fact, it’s not even a Christmas movie per se. December 5th is the day The Netherlands celebrate their preferred version of the holiday: Sinterklaas. On this day the horse-riding holy man St. Nicholas is said to deliver presents just like the St. Nick we portray as a fat man in a red suit riding in a sleigh.
But in filmmaker Dick Maas’ version of the legend, the holy man in red was a cruel bishop turned ruthless pirate back in his day who was burned alive on his ship after a looting spree and now returns as an undead terror to murder people and kidnap small children every couple decades whenever the December 5th holiday falls on the night of a full moon.
Just as Silent Night, Deadly Night created controversy in its day, as you can imagine, Sint caused quite a stir in The Netherlands with its reimagining of a beloved holiday figure as an evil corpse-faced figure adorned in papal attire striding in on horseback wielding a razor-sharp crosier while flanked by psychopathic black-faced minions.
Black-faced minions, you ask? St. Nicholas’ legend has him working with helpers with faces blackened from the soot of chimneys known as “Black Petes”, a look copied by many celebrating the holiday. Apparently, what we in the US might be inclined to view as a racist caricature is part of the holiday tradition over there. Or in Maas’ movie, Black Petes are murderous zombies in black face under the command of a silent satanic saint that serves primarily as a passive presence while they do most of his dirty work – and his work is quite dirty.
Early on Sint looked as if it was going to be nothing more than a straightforward slasher flick. The opening back-story is so reminiscent of Freddy Krueger’s lynching by fire you know right away what some of Maas’ influences were. Much of the first third will focus on a teenage circle of friends – every bit as vapid as their American horror counterparts. Annoyingly, one young female gets quite a bit of screen time early on only to barely factor into the plot at all by the second half.
Thankfully, a far more interesting character than any of the colorless teens is introduced in the form of Gert, the Dr. Loomis of the movie. His family was slaughtered by Niklas as a kid in 1968; now he’s a Sinterklaas hating cop who is so sure this night is going to be a bloody one he keeps getting himself in trouble with the superior that’s only willing to believes he might be mentally unstable.
When I tell you Gert hates this holiday, I mean his introductory scene as an adult has him walking into the police station to find someone has jokingly left a wrapped present on his desk and his instant reaction – no hesitation whatsoever – is to pull his gun and blast it to hell. Blasting St. Nicholas to hell is also his goal once the unholy man’s pirate ship appears in the city’s harbor enshrouded in fog.
Though many people meet gruesomely gory demises as one would expect in a slasher movie, not too many slasher movies I know of are highlighted by a police car in hot pursuit of a maniac on a horse galloping across city rooftops. Easily the film’s highlight, but I’d be remiss not to note that the unlikely way this rooftop steeplechase culminates had me scratching my head wondering if I just didn’t fully understand Dutch architecture or if perhaps physics just works differently in The Netherlands.
It’s been about a week since I saw Sint and although I had fun watching it, I’d be lying if I said I’ve thought about it much since. Maas keeps his film from becoming your standard slasher with some genuine inventiveness, a few good supporting performances, a welcome dash of dark humor, some Burton-esque visuals that give an ominously Gothic look to the magically wintery look of Sinterklaas time, and a villain that may not become an iconic horror villain but certainly makes for a unique one. But it’s still no Rare Exports.
3 out of 5
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