Secret Santa Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Signature Entertainment / Frightfest Presents
Directed by Adam Marcus
Written by Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan
2018, 89 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest European premiere on 27th August 2018
Michael Rady as Ty
Drew Lynch as Kyle
Debra Sullivan as Sharl
A Leslie Kies as April
A family gathering descends into carnage when they are overcome with a monstrous diseased rage during Christmas dinner. Already harbouring enough simmering anger and resentment to fuel a year’s worth of soap opera plots, it doesn’t take much to push this feuding family over the edge. It’s You’re Next crossed with Arrested Development.
But when it comes to this warring bunch of middle-class murderers, there are no winners. The characters of Secret Santa are one of the most hateful, hateable collections of people ever seen in a horror film. Even those you’re supposed to sympathise with (the ‘nice’ sister with a dark secret, the stammering brother… with another secret) are rendered unbearable through performance and character writing. It’s Krampus, minus that film’s excellent cast and discreet heart. It’s Mom and Dad, without that film’s savvy handle on its themes. Some families really hate each other, who knew?
What Secret Santa does breed, however, is satisfying violence and brutally scabrous dialogue. The constantly flying insults are beautifully effective (if ruined by most of the cast’s screeching performance style) and I genuinely cheered at the first act of brutality. Once the family stop shouting at each other and the film becomes a more conventional action horror piece, it makes for much more tolerable viewing. (Co) writer and director Adam Marcus’s script is frequently witty, funny and gloriously savage. If only he could have been afforded a more talented cast to bring it to life. Could have done without all that really on-the-nose “when this family loses control of its id” stuff too.
With a better cast and bigger budget, Secret Santa could have been a truly good, if not great Christmas horror film. Unfortunately, it’s depressingly cheap, undermined at every stage by its low production values and obnoxious, gurning cast. Everything from the crap CGI blood to the rotten Christmas carol cover songs is low-grade and obvious, sabotaging the good work Marcus does manage to get done.
Secret Santa is an annoying, obvious chore that’s not nearly as profound or edgy as it thinks it is. Nevertheless, there’s a wit, enthusiasm and energy to it that can’t be denied. For all its flaws, it’s certainly dedicated to delivering unadulterated, un-PC nastiness. Well, it’s the thought that counts.