Monday, October 17, 2016

HOLIDAYS (2016) [Paul's Review]

Ever been to a Halloween party where the level of costume buy-in is pretty wobbly?  I mean, over there by the punchbowl you’ll have somebody who has spent weeks putting together a period-specific paper maché recreation of President Taft’s battle with his own clawfooted bathtub, complete with running water and a 1908 newspaper.  And then over here you’ll have someone who wore a bright red shirt and says she’s “Fire.” 

I got the same wobbly feeling when watching Holidays, the horror anthology of eight shorts from different directors each pegged to separate holidays.  Regardless of the merits of the individual films, the overarching theme seemed more convenience than necessity.   Of the eight shorts, only three—Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas (MAAYYYBEEE New Year’s, if you count being lonely and single as, you know, essential to the New Year’s experience)—tell stories that could not reasonably be set on any other day of the year.  And only one of those, Easter, really goes full Taft in putting the reason for the season front and center.   Yes, “Easter-Bunny-Crucified-Jesus” is a thing in this movie.

Easter is also the most unsettling and effective of the lot, which just goes to show the value of working with the assignment rather than around it.  And there are a lot of other life lessons to learn from the moralistic fables collected in Holidays.  Shall we begin?

Valentine’s Day
A bullied teen girl fantasizes about giving her hunky swimming coach a special valentine.   She seems only adjacent to sanity, as indicated by her rainbow saturated daydreams.  The coach sympathizes with the bullied girl and tries to be nice by giving her a Valentine’s Day card.  This catapults her into an unhinged euphoria, and she returns the favor.  Violently.

Moral of the story:  Blur boundaries with teenage girls at the risk of being sucked into their aporetic vortex of self-delusion.

St. Patrick’s Day
A schoolteacher in Ireland has a strange little girl in her class.  The girl puts some kind of curse on her.  Then she gets pregnant during a drunken St. Patrick’s Day evening.  It turns out that she’s pregnant with a snake (“You remember Rosemary’s Baby?” the obstetrician says to her, “It’s like that, only a reptile.  You’ve got Rosemary’s Reptile.”).  This leads to some understandable soul-searching. 

 Moral of the story:  Having reptile offspring out of wedlock is a choice, not a baby. 

A young girl gets confused by the not-entirely-consistent traditions of the Easter bunny and the resurrection of Jesus.  When she goes to get a glass of water in the middle of the night, she meets the real life Easter bunny.  But this bunny is, um, less like a cuddly pet and more like a glassy-eyed traumatized psycho-rabbit whose nose twitches in some PTSD reflex and whose powers of speech have been reduced to insane incoherent ramblings, muttered in hushed reverent tones, about the  "wondrous things" he's seen.  Excellent dialogue, perfect timing, a cohesive premise and streamlined, moody, direction elevate this above the other entries in the collection. 

Moral of the story:  Don't drink from the tap.   

Mother’s Day
A woman who keeps getting pregnant every time she has sex, no matter how much birth control she uses, is referred to a new-age fertility clinic in the desert.  There she tries to fit in with a bunch of women who are having trouble conceiving.  Turns out, women who are having trouble having babies don’t really like being around a one-woman abortion fountain.  Some cultish stuff ensues and the plot wanders off into the desert.

Moral of the story:  Abstinence education really doesn’t work. 

Father’s Day
A young woman receives a cassette tape in the mail from her dead father.  It audio-tours her through the final moments of her father’s last day.  As she goes back to the past, she learns more about what happened the day they were separated on a desolate beach.  It’s atmospheric and lonely and does an admirable job of making a closed door something to dread.  

Moral of the story:  When mailing someone in the future a message, be sure to account for media technology obsolescence!   The dad includes a cassette deck with his cassette, which is really thinking ahead.  But what won’t we have in the future?  Probably the ability to read!  So be sure to include a book on cassette that will teach your future children how to read!  And also a cassette deck.  And batteries.  Also potable water, because you never know.

Speaking of emoticons, the only thing nearly effective in the Kevin Smith installment is a torture scene involving them.  The story involves porn cam-girls who turn the tables on their manager/pimp.  What does this have to do with Halloween?  Nothing really.  And then there’s the implausible torture scene in which the victim seems to willfully ignore an obvious and easy solution to his situation.  The one redeeming feature is a clever use of emoticons, which is cool because emoticons have a lot of unexplored creepiness:  they're little disembodied yellow faces that smile or cry or laugh for us. And at us. 

Moral of the story:  When being electrocuted by a cord, unplug it.

Hey, is that Seth Green?  Yeah!  That’s Seth Green!  Do you know what this means???   We’ve almost covered half the cast of Idle Hands in less than a year of reviewing direct-to-streaming horror!  If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I’ve got a thing for Idle Hands.  I first mentioned it when reviewing The Veil with Jessica Alba.  And then I mentioned it again when Devon Sawa showed up in The Exorcism of Molly Hartley.  And now Seth Green!  It’s like Idle Hands is the Breakfast Club of direct-to-streaming horror! 

Ah look at that, I got so excited about Seth Green that I don’t have space to say anything about this largely forgettable sci-fi-flavored short about a Christmas virtual reality toy that shows you (and others) your deepest secrets.  It ain’t all that great. 

Moral of the Story:  Look up Jack Noseworthy and see what he’s up to these days.

New Year’s
A bumbling sadist kidnapper finds himself without a date for New Year’s when he kills the woman that he’s been holding captive.  Using a dating app, he lines up a new victim, a young, desperate and lonely woman.  They go out on a date.  The kidnapper has zero game, like negative game, like calling it a game would be disrespectful to things that are barely games, like Hungry Hungry Hippos or gymnastics.  But somehow, miraculously, she is into him.  Could something else be afoot?  We get our answer when a foot is literally severed off during the final sequence! 

Moral of the Story:  When you are having trouble being witty, force a pun!

Questions for Joe:
1.  What would you send along with your creepy message to your children in the future?

JD: A Garmin navigator, so they'd know how to find me! Those things will never be out of date!

2.  Why are all the crazy characters female?

JD: It can't have anything to do with the fact that all the sketches were written and directed by guys. Anyone who thought it did would have to be crazy!

3.  What’s the worst of the sketches?  Why?

JD: The Halloween sketch was the worst, because it was the most amateurish sketch in a film compiled entirely of amateur sketches. And it was created by Kevin Smith, who has been an amateur filmmaker longer than anyone ever. 

4.  Why is the final line of the movie in Spanish?

JD: It's weird, right? It's like, you thought she was a normal girl. Then you find out she's an ax murderer, AND she speaks Spanish. For all we know, she could also be into musical theater. It's like, what ELSE don't we know about her?

5.  When being methodically followed by a silent antagonist, which idea is worse: (a) cutting through the woods, or (b) explaining to your stalker that you are “just cutting through the woods”?

JD: That's a standard plot device. She wasn't really explaining herself to the killer, she was explaining herself to the audience members who didn't understand where she was going. Like my three year old son, who incidentally has been having a lot of nightmares. And talking in his sleep. In Spanish! What else don't I know about him...

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