New Review: Holidays (2016)
Director(s): Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Robinson, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith, Scott Stewart, Adam Egypt Mortimer
Cast: Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Rick Peter, Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey, Ava Acres, Sophie Traub, Jocelyn Donahue, Michael Gross, Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Olicia Roush, Harley Morenstein, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Andrew Bowen, Lorenza Izzo
Over the past couple of years, the horror anthology genre has fallen into three categories: The very good (Trick ‘r Treat, Southbound, V/H/S 2), the very bad (Tales of Halloween, V/H/S: Viral), and the downright inexcusable (V/H/S). Holidays, on the other hand, is in a class by itself. This is one audaciously stupid film. Audaciously stupid, you ask? What else can you say about a movie that features a demonic Jesus bunny? It’s audacious, sure (even a good ol’ Christian boy like me got a laugh out of it), but man alive, is it ever stupid!
The concept behind the movie is so genius that it’s amazing that no one has ever tried it before: take one of the major holidays and construct a short horror story around it. Had it been given to filmmakers who put so much as a little effort into their stories, the results might have been something pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, the majority of the stories in Holidays are rush jobs with little thought put into things like character development and dialogue, and some of them have so little seasonal flair that they could have taken place on any ol’ holiday and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest (this is especially true for the Halloween segment, which could have taken place on Veteran’s Day, and no one would have been the wiser).
Things get off to a really bad start with Valentine’s Day (written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer), which tells the story of a bullied teenager named Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) who is given the motivation she needs to take revenge against super mean girl Heidi (Savannah Kennick, truly awful) when the object of her affection, swimming Coach Rockwell (Rick Peter), leaves her a Valentine’s Day card in her locker. The scenes of teenage bullying are staged in such an over-the-top way, and Kennick’s performance is so very terrible, that, despite the fact that the segment is beautifully shot and juicily scored with 80s sounding beats, it becomes almost impossible to endure. We’re also made to believe that Coach Rockwell, who seems empathetic towards Maxine, would stand by and let the mean girls bully her because said mean girls are holding a talent show fundraiser to get him a new heart. Uh-huh. And who the hell is gonna tell a creepy girl who’s following them, “I’m gonna cut through the woods”? And why would you cut through the woods when a creepy girl is following you?! Come on, now!
The second story, St. Patrick’s Day (directed by Gary Shore), is really no better. It tells the story of young elementary school teacher Elizabeth Cullen (Ruth Bradley) as she’s tormented by an evil little girl named Grainne (Isolt McCaffrey) after showing a video in class about the history of St. Patrick’s Day. Like the previous segment, St. Patrick’s Day is not even sort of scary, and the payoff is, while certainly surreal, also rather goofy. Bradley is fine as the tormented teacher, but when she starts sniffing baby clothes like a mad woman in the middle of a store, it’s bound to elicit a bad laugh.
There are certainly bad laughs aplenty with the next segment, Easter (directed by Nicholas McCarthy), which tells what happens when an inquisitive little girl (Ava Acres) makes the mistake of getting up for a glass of water on Easter eve. McCarthy works oh so hard to inject a dark and menacing atmosphere into the proceedings, but all that does is make what happens in the final moments all the more hilarious. Even naysayers of Holidays have said that this is one of the best segments in the film, although I haven’t the faintest idea why. Acres is adorable as the little girl, though.
The next tale, Mother’s Day, is just garbage. This segment tells the lethargic and bizarre story of Kate (Sophie Traub), a young woman who is unfortunate enough to get pregnant every time she has sex (she even says that she makes her boyfriend put on two to three condoms, and it still doesn’t help). With countless abortions under her belt, she’s sent to a cultish retreat in the middle of nowhere filled with women who want to have at least one child. I wish I knew what director Sarah Adina Robinson was going for here, but I haven’t the foggiest idea. The segment just lurches tediously from scene to scene (and many of those scenes involve, for some reason, topless women) until it reaches a final shot that made this critic groan.
And now we reach Father’s Day, and if the rest of the stories were as chilling, hauntingly suggestive, or brilliantly conceived as this one is, then the movie as a whole would have been seen as something of a masterpiece. Written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns (a filmmaker who’s officially on my radar now), Father’s Day tells the story of Carol (the always radiant Jocelyn Donahue) who unexpectedly receives a cassette tape made by her thought-dead father (Michael Gross). On the tape, which was made many years ago on the day he disappeared, he gives her directions to his current location, and she follows them with the hope of having her many questions answered and being reunited with her dad.
Everything about this segment is note perfect: Donahue’s stellar performance, Kevin and Rebecca Joelson’s exquisite cinematography, and a conclusion that gets under your skin and terrifies you with its many implications. Father’s Day is the lone jewel in this sea of sewage, and if you ever get the chance to view it on its own, do not hesitate to do so.
After hitting its high with Father’s Day, it’s straight back to Crapsville with Halloween, directed by the not-untalented Kevin Smith. A simple revenge story about three webcam girls (Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Olicia Roush) who turn the tables on their misogynistic dill-hole of a boss Ian (Harley Morenstein), Halloween is sloppy and stupid, and concludes with Ian doing something with a butcher knife that he didn’t have to do, seeing as how all he needed to do was cut a wire that… well, never mind. This segment sucks.
While nowhere near as good as Father’s Day, Christmas (directed by Scott Stewart), to me, ranks as the second best story of the lot. This segment follows Pete Gunderson (Seth Green), a family man desperate to get a popular set of virtual reality glasses for his son. When he sees the businessman who purchased the final pair have a heart attack in the parking lot, Pete takes advantage of the situation and swipes the gift, leaving the business man to die. Needless to say, both he and his wife Sara (Clare Grant, Green’s wife in real life) get more than they bargained for with the glasses. While it’s not really scary, Christmas is well-acted and better written than most of the other segments here, and I thought it had one helluva terrific conclusion (the final shot, of Pete jumping as his wife knocks on the door, is a great stopping point).
And finally, there’s New Year’s (directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer).
This one tells the story of a sicko serial killer named Reggie (Andrew Bowen) who targets young women on a dating site. His latest would-be victim is a young woman named Jean (Lorenza Izzo), who’s introduced crying into a bowl of ice cream hoping that Reggie is “better than the last one,” and if you can’t see where this is going, then I don’t know what to do for you. It’s gory, it’s predictable, and it’s just plain forgettable.
And that pretty much describes Holidays overall. Apart from the two good segments in the film, it feels like all the other filmmakers put absolutely zero thought into their tales. It was like they were approached with this great idea for a horror anthology, and were told to have their stories ready by lunch time. My hope is that someone will try again with this concept down the road. Potential like this shouldn’t go unrealized.
Rated R for gory violence, sexual content, much nudity, profanity
Final Grade: * ½ (out of ****)