Overview: An anthology of horror vignettes loosely tied to Western Holidays. Vertical Entertainment; 2016; Rated R; 105 Minutes.
Recalibrating: Behind the title and structure of the new anthology short horror collection Holidays, there is pulled something of a backdoor switcheroo. While the movie’s name and its projected intention give every indication that the collection seeks to use horror storytelling to explore and subvert the cultural traditions and embedded mythologies behind the subject holidays, that does not really happen. Not many of these short films exhibit any curiosity toward their holiday subject matter and at least one barely even acknowledges the influence of its assigned holiday upon its story and characters. However, this is by no means ruinous; because the film exclusively explores Western holidays, it allows the narratives to pair the faded and often hollow traditions with another set of dated social concepts in our society. Each film within this collection uses monstrosity, malice, and murder to force a consideration of expectations of every status of being a woman in America: professional, spousal, romantic, sexual, biologically maternal, socially maternal, and the status of being a daughter.
An Imbalance: As is often the case with collections of short films, the measure of quality is inconsistent – at least two of the films are immediately affecting while others register as half-baked or insincere. For my money, Holidays hits its best stretch in back-to-back films with Sarah Adina Smith’s Mother’s Day and Anthony Scott Burns’ Father’s Day. The first displays a precise tension rewarded with a delightful and earned final jump scare and the second is an exercise of heartfelt yet terrifying hypnosis that made me want to hold off the rest of the film while I enjoyed a cathartic, detached rewatch. Almost as rewarding is the opening Valentine’s Day segment from Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, but this Carrie-influenced sweet revenge short, with its scene-by-scene technical excellence, could have used a full feature’s worth of room to breathe (see Starry Eyes for a good example of this directing duo’s filmmaking talent). Both Gary Shore’s St. Patrick’s Day and Nicholas McCarthy’s Easter package more weirdness into every minute than a viewer can handle, with the pregnancy body horror of the first and the eerie monster bunny of the second. The film’s final two vignettes, Scott Stewart’s Christmas and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s New Year’s Eve offer standard self-amused thrillers that are passably constructed but don’t close with the oomph that the first and middle segments deserve. Unexpectedly, the least rewarding short comes from the most celebrated name in the credits. Kevin Smith’s Halloween has no tie to its holiday, exhibits a strangely condescending mix of sex worker condescension and pandering female empowerment (I’m sorry if I can’t wholly buy into this forced message from the director of Chasing Amy), and falls apart with stiff acting and allegiance to a lazily constructed revenge narrative.
Beyond the Credits: There have been quite a few horror anthologies lately, including the V/H/S films, México Bárbaro, The ABCs of Death and its sequel, and Southbound. These are difficult films to review in conglomerate (at least in our standard format); each chapter has it own ambition, takes its own distinct chances, and fails or succeeds on its own terms. I refuse to believe that anyone at a birthday likes all three flavors in Neapolitan ice cream, and horror fan-ship is the same. Die-hard fans will at least appreciate each segment, but others will ensure mixed reactions and a deluded final assessment with a shared metric. But these films seem to exist in celebration at the unprecedented array of filmmaking talent currently working in the lax boundaries of the horror genre.
Overall: It’s worth noting that fans can see many directors taking this many chances without concern for the trope-of-the-moment limitations of past eras. That’s evidence of a richness of talent and creativity in Holidays, which is something we can all enjoy.