Red Christmas (2016)
Directed by Craig Anderson
Screened at Fantasia 2016
Red Christmas, from Australian director Craig Anderson, walks a fine line between an over-the-top slasher and a tragic family drama – and somehow it works. Mostly due to the dedicated performance of Dee Wallace as the perfect mother whose one mistake comes back to torment her, Red Christmas never takes itself too seriously even when the suffering begins to outweigh the cartoon violence. An idyllic Norman Rockwell painting that ends up being ripped to shreds, it’s a movie with a message that also happens to have a very high body count that surely pleased the twisted minds of the midnight crowd at Fantasia Fest this year.
A somewhat estranged family reunites for the holidays in the remote house they grew up in, only to be visited by a stranger who can best be described as a cross between a homeless person and the Ghost from Christmas Past. As a good Christian, Diane (Wallace) welcomes the mysterious visitor into her home with open arms until he begins to read his letter out loud, possibly exposing a dark secret from Diane’s past. After being thrown out of the home and threatened, the cloaked figure flees, only to return with a vengeance later that night.
Fueled by some serious abandonment issues, the killing spree begins in all its head-splitting glory as Diane’s children and their significant others are picked off one by one, driving Diane into a nightmarish scenario that tests her sanity as she deals with a level of loss so deep that there’s no hope of ever coming back from the brink. Left only with the singular purpose to defend herself and save as many family members as possible, Diane comes face to face with her dark secret that now threatens to destroy the very thing she’s fought for the most.
Dee Wallace’s performance throughout is top-notch here and always relatable. At the start, Wallace almost plays Diane like the star of her own dark comedy, but as the fight for survival rages on throughout the long night, she makes each death resonate as the disbelief and anguish runs across her face. Towards the finale, she turns into an improbable action star of sorts, determined to put an end to a rampage that, in her eyes, she doesn’t deserve. Wallace’s performance and the graphic, operatic death scenes add a real sense of weight while still stocking the movie full of fun death scenes that help balance out the darker tone Red Christmas establishes as the film moves on.
The real surprise of Red Christmas is how successful it is at also being a real family drama towards the end with effective scenes involving Diane and her mentally challenged son, adding more depth to their relationship which also develops the killer into a character we can almost relate to. It’s satisfying on the surface as a killer-on-the-loose picture, but it’s also a good example of a horror movie with a high body count where you actually care about the bodies.