Quietly unnerving films like The Loved Ones and Wolf Creek (the first one, not the horrendous sequel) have come to define Australian horror to an international audience, but this country has produced just as many louder, bloodier, and faster entries into the often overcrowded genre, and most of that quality is found on the lower end of the budget. Red Christmas from funny man Craig Anderson is a good example of this, a film selected to have its world premiere as part of the Freak Me Out program of the 63rd annual Sydney Film Festival.
What Red Christmas lacks in complexity it makes up for in charm, presenting a spirited and sometimes satirical horror-comedy that almost never takes itself seriously – sometimes to it’s detriment. There is the heavy-handed, somewhat confused message surrounding abortion embedded to act as an anchor for all the hack-and-slash horror, but for the most part it’s light entertainment with a sharp mix of over-the-top gore and comedy.
Dee Wallace unsurprisingly plays the lead – Diane – and as one of the most famous mothers in Hollywood (she was the mum in E.T) is a strong, protective matriarch to a rather argumentative family who has come together, in a secluded country home, to celebrate Christmas. Veteran actor Geoff Morrell appears here as the rather crass Joe while the young adults of the family are actors from comedy backgrounds, including the stand-out Gerard Odwyer who plays Jerry, a witty young man with down syndrome who is as fiercely protective of his family as anyone else.
It’s all fairly innocuous until an awkward hooded man, Cletus, shows up at the door, Anderson cleverly taking away his clear-cut villain role by bringing him into the family circle. With a letter addressed to his mother in hand, Cletus quickly aggravates the situation by bringing up a secret Diane wanted to avoid, implying that he is the fetus she aborted years ago when she decided that she couldn’t handle another “disabled” child after difficulties with Jerry. Cletus is promptly thrown out, but rather than consistently hold onto the comparatively neutral tone, Anderson has him turn into a viscous killer out to exact vengeance on the family.
Cletus is characterised similarly to a Monty Python character, talented young comedian Sam Campbell bringing a darkly comic streak in his unique movement and broken speech despite being relegated to a hand holding an axe for much of the film. The attempt to make him a sympathetic villain who is forced into his role via circumstance doesn’t quite work with the sometimes brutal ways with which he exacts revenge – splitting people in two, gouging their eyes out with kitchen appliances – but it does add a level of depth to his eventual and all too brief moment with Diane and Jerry.
Dialogue seems to be Anderson’s main strength in Red Christmas, and he is at his best when satirising the horror genre as a whole. For example, taking running shots at mobile communication breakdowns as a stock standard contrivance in slasher flicks, and of course, having the characters make unnecessarily bold moves that end up being stupid mistakes.
Another area in which Anderson has obviously paid close intention is the deliberate use of lighting, cleverly making the house look a christmas tree with most frames tinged with bright neon colours, particularly green and obviously red. The attention to detail here is admirable, keeping the spirit of Christmas in the background to contrast against all the violence and chaos that unfolds.
Anderson tracks the action well, but at pivotal moments – usually death scenes – the camera is shaky and cuts away too quickly, taking from the impact and often confusing developments in the film. An example of this being a scene in which Diane has a gun to Cletus’ head, and yet is next seen running from him firing around five shots and unbelievably missing every single one – that, or Cletus is indeed some kind of bulletproof living fetus. These types of missteps take away from the flow of the film and never quite lift it above it’s entertainment value, which to be fair, was already high to begin with.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Run Time: 82 minutes
Red Christmas is screening as part of the 63rd annual Sydney Film Festival. One more screening is scheduled for Friday 17th June at Event Cinemas – George Street, 8:15pm. More information and tickets can be found