‘Santa Isn’t Real’ Nightmares Film Festival 2023 Review: Holiday Horror To Believe In
One of the most fun and engaging aspects of the horror genre is its predilection for breaking taboos. Holiday horror does just that, taking a cultural event that is usually meant to be cheerful and wholesome, and turning it on its ear into something darker. Whether it’s examining the weirder underbellies of our favorite traditions or intentionally corrupting a cultural icon, holiday horror is something most of us will never tire of.
Zac Locke’s sophomore feature, Santa Isn’t Real, takes aim at one of the most popular holiday icons in existence and bathes him in the blood of both the naughty and the nice. In the tradition of such gems as Christmas Bloody Christmas, Santa’s Slay, and Silent Night Deadly Night, Locke offers up a creepy (masked) Santa who is apt to put you under his knife whether you’re a believer or not. That’s right, folks, you have a new killer Santa slasher to look forward to!
Santa Isn’t Real centers around a small group of friends who decide to head off to a cabin in the woods for their Christmas celebration. One of their number suffered a major traumatic incident the year prior and they’re hoping to have a good holiday weekend together to help brighten this Christmas. Of course, this being a murder movie, secrets will come to light, bodies will be ruined, and psychological wounds reopened.
Is there anything particularly new on display here? No, but that’s no immediate negative in this subgenre. As always, it’s not so much the ingredients you’re working with, but how you mix them together. Three of the more important elements in a film of this type are the mask, the score, and the murder setpieces. If you nail those, then it’s far easier to overlook any other deficiencies that a stalk-‘n-kill flick might have. Happily, Locke & Co. delivered on all three. The mask is creepy, the score is appropriately chilly and wholesome in all the right places for Christmas horror, and there’s one church setpiece in particular that left a big wide grin on my face.
Is Santa Isn’t Real perfect? No. Some performances are stronger than others, some of the effects work doesn’t quite land, and there are some pacing issues in the third act. Still, what we have here is a new slice of dependable holiday horror that can freshen up your December to dismember watchlists when it arrives before your eyes on VOD in a little over a month’s time. Watch out for it…and for Santa, too, especially if you haven’t behaved yourself this year.
Santa Isn’t Real offers up reliable snowbound thrills with some striking imagery, a chilling Christmas score, and one creepy Santa.