Friday, December 8, 2023

‘Santa Isn’t Real’ Review – Latest Christmas Horror Movie Fails to Make the Season Bright

Between Thanksgiving and It’s a Wonderful Knife, it’s been an especially rewarding year for seasonal slasher fans, an esteemed group that Santa Isn’t Real does not join. Writer and director Zac Locke’s low-budget Christmas massacre barely has a pulse until the final few minutes, only thanks to a few teaspoons of gore. Performances are stiff, characters have no spatial awareness with a killer on the loose, and technical elements can get pretty ugly, all dooming this snoozy Christmas Horror dud to the naughty list.

The film opens with the eggnog-sipping Nikki (Kaya Coleman) cozying up by the fire after setting red frosted cookies and milk by a decorated tree per Christmas traditions. Much to Nikki’s surprise, Santa shimmies down her chimney — and slices her arm open with a kitchen knife before bashing her unconscious with a snowglobe. A year later, Nikki wakes from her coma to see her best friend Jess (Scarlett Sperduto) and boyfriend Nathan (Trey Anderson) standing by her side. Nikki doesn’t care to spend her holiday with parents who were ready to pull the plug (and converted her bedroom into a gym), so she accompanies Jess and Nathan to third friend MJ’s (Cissy Ly) woodland vacation home. No obnoxious relatives, no supervision, it’s the perfect escape — unless Santa’s back in town.

To say Santa Isn’t Real is more complicated than the above summary is giving the screenplay too much credit. Still, there’s more to Nikki’s predicament because the masked intruder she swears is Santa framed her attempted murder as a suicide. Nikki is pegged as an untrustworthy protagonist by her “supportive” friends when she tries to blame jolly old St. Nick for her slashed wrist, which is met with hilariously dodgy dialogue by Jess as she tries to wrap her head around not only believing in Santa Claus, but his apparent bloodlust. Locke chooses too icy and stern a tone for the absurd conceit, drowning out any excitement with mechanical character motivations and inept plot devices (let’s not pretend it’s impossible to find dropped smartphones in a few inches of snow).

Nikki’s friends are absolute trash humans who we’re forced to spend the entire movie with because of a small body count. Everything is so poorly hidden from Nathan and Tess’ redefined relationship to the killer’s identity, which flatlines suspense when taken so foolishly serious. There are sporadic outbursts of metal music and slick do-it-yourself gore when licked-sharp candy canes puncture [redacted], but those highlights (mediumlights at best) make up a handful of seconds in an already truncated seventy-five-minute duration. The rest bumbles through excruciatingly uninspired melodrama delivered like an off-primetime horror soap opera devoid of wit or bite. It’s painfully predictable, frustrating to endure, and exceptionally underwhelming across all components.

Quality standards aren’t up to par, whether an ADR line read jumps in volume and static or midnight cinematography becomes an ugly, hard-to-see-through dark blue. It’s a shame because the few violent interactions where horror sensibilities finally rise above a whimper are passable — but some of the easiest conversational executions are a sloppy slog. Locke tries to poke cheeky fun at multiple religious Christmas beliefs and how you can’t spell “Santa” without “Satan,” but the film’s technical chops aren’t sharp enough to accentuate these seasonal commentaries. Not to mention how dismally Locke handles the lingering question of Nikki’s sanity, and whether or not Santa is actually shimmying down chimneys with murderous intent (another laughably horrendous effect as red pant legs and booties drop into view).

Santa Isn’t Real never feels properly calibrated as a Christmas Horror slasher, whether it wants to be taken seriously or shared over beers after midnight. It’s the wrong kind of holiday nightmare, barely held together by hateable characters and subpar filmmaking features (not the memorable ha-ha horror kind). Don’t expect Krampus or Deadly Games achievements, more Once Upon a Time at Christmas or Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride inferiority. I’ve seen over one hundred Christmas Horror movies, so I can confidently make that claim (trust me). Santa Isn’t Real doesn’t do anything to elevate the subgenre, and fails even to have the decency to come with a return receipt.

2 skulls out of 5

The post ‘Santa Isn’t Real’ Review – Latest Christmas Horror Movie Fails to Make the Season Bright appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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