Review by Bryan Yentz
Starring Julianne Aga, Pernille Baggeranas, Ida Malene Smike Bakke
Written and directed by Reinert Kiil
Christmas. A time when horror junkies can stoke a glowing fire, drink hot cocoa and relish the festive violence of horror like SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, its “Garbage Day” sequel, GREMLINS, BLACK CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS EVIL and KRAMPUS. It’s about family, giving and the fuzzy feelings one gets when watching a sinister, six-foot JACK FROST somehow manage to decapitate a bully with a slow-moving sled. In recent years, several films have managed to leave their cinematic mark on the holidays (like RARE EXPORTS), while others have just become a footnote (HOLIDAYS, SANTA’S SLAY, RED CHRISTMAS, etcetera). Now, the Norwegian offering CHRISTMAS BLOOD sleighs into the snowy season, hoping to become another entry in many a horror fan’s annual tradition.
CHRISTMAS BLOOD (or “JULEBLOD” in its native tongue) begins with just that. Blood (and lots of it) on Christmas. A Santa-dressed psychopath with a yuletide spirit for dismemberment invades the dwelling of a father and daughter and succinctly gifts them the blade of his axe. Shortly thereafter, he’s gunned down by a disgruntled cop with a candy cane to pick and figured dead (notice I said “figured”).
Shortly thereafter, we learn in the film’s exposition-heavy prologue (as in, superimposed verbiage alongside the introductory credits) that this evil Santa had been wreaking a mess of holiday havoc for quite some time, years in fact. The press clippings and headlines continue to notate the rampages of yore before abruptly switching to the present, where they then instruct the viewer that—somehow—he survived being repeatedly shot and has since been imprisoned. . . That is until the title cards cease and we learn that—SURPRISE!—he escaped somehow. Now, a new (and utterly incompetent) police officer is on his trail. Oh, and while this festive hunt is occurring, there are a bunch of friends having a reunion rife with drugs, alcohol, and debauchery. So yeah, slasher fodder.
Essentially, what CHRISTMAS BLOOD boils down to, is a clumsy clone of the aforementioned SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT movies. . . But in Norway. While it has an obvious budget, practical gore up the chimney and occasionally decent lighting, it’s constantly hampered by an utterly misguided and incomplete story as well as heavily unlikable characters.
At one hour and forty-five minutes, CHRISTMAS BLOOD is far too long and should’ve had someone—anyone—inform writer/director Reinert Kiil that he should pick one of two storylines. Either a) the inept police-procedural or b) the inept kids-on-vacation-nothing-bad-can-happen-slasher. Instead, Kiil tries to merge the two and consequently, fails at both. A large portion of the flick is simply wasted runtime, as if he was desperate to irresponsibly pad the film’s length for zero reason. Kiil really should have just kept focus on the young adults getting nixed, because he has little to no understanding of police procedure and his ignorance shows in nearly every moment the detectives are on scene. Moment to moment with the bumbling badge offers nothing compelling nor necessary. While the bad Santa stalks, he’s inspecting the wrong (and graphically nude) corpse of a woman unrelated to the massacres—all the while a mortician munches his buttered bread, drops a piece on her expired body, and removes/eats it like nothing happened. Gross? Yes. Needed? No. While the Santa kills, this dimwit with a gun harasses a copulating couple because he. . . Thinks it’s a lead? Again, why is this remotely obligatory? None of this officer’s shenanigans are either funny or amusing and they accomplish zilch when it comes to the killer. The only minor plot point that derives from this subplot is a final “reveal” regarding the cartography of the Santa, but again, has no context or purpose are than a slight visual gag.
So when CHRISTMAS BLOOD isn’t boring with its more useless narrative thread, it’s making you hate its central cast of bait. Led by mostly females, each lady is given snippets of characterization that are never realized whatsoever. The movie makes repeated efforts to remind you of potential arcs without delivering on any of them. While one has a traumatic past involving her mother, another is consistently addressed as the “good girl” that might be hiding something. When not constantly reminding you of those two aspects, Kiil continues to address and readdress infidelity between one couple, as well as one girl who is mute. I kept waiting for something to come of each of these, but nothing integral is done with any of these topics. So again, what was the purpose in wasting SO much time on them? Red herrings I presume? Tricking the audience into thinking something—anything would come of these specific beats only to have them abruptly killed? Causing more derision is that each of the leads are quite awful to one another. Imagine MEAN GIRLS stuck in an apartment and you can already see where some of this is going. When two grimy men (with worse intentions) from Tinder arrive, I was definitely hoping for the axe to start swinging already just to put a stop to all of the bickering and backstabbing. If Kiil wanted you to hate his characters, then I guess CHRISTMAS BLOOD did succeed at something.
As the queries build and the story’s holes widen, CHRISTMAS BLOOD’s seasonal splatter finally hits, and it manages to slightly satisfy with stockings-full of gore. Sometimes it’s grisly, sometimes it’s over the top (like gallons of blood splashing down a staircase from a head wound) and sometimes it’s simply cruel in its bad taste—as depicted in a third-act sexual murder that was as unnecessary as the police procedural. There’s some imposing stunt work with the sadistic Santa’s ability to throttle victims via axe (like one casualty brutally whiplashed off of a snowmobile), but it’s all just too little too late. And by the time only a handful of characters remain, CHRISTMAS BLOOD “ends” on one of the laziest notes of the entire holiday. Actually, it doesn’t so much as end as cut to black; as if Kiil legitimately forgot to film a climax because he was so busy shooting worthless filler. Characters have no resolution, questions aren’t answered and worst of all, the big confrontation it’s been building since its prologue doesn’t even happen.
CHRISTMAS BLOOD does scratch a gorehound’s itch for merciless slaughter, but won’t keep the pack salivating beyond a beer-binging rental. Its story is horribly plotted, badly told and its unfinished nature is an extra load of coal poorly wrapped for the viewer. To semi-quote GREMLINS’ Stripe, “CHRISTMAS BLOOD, CACA! CACA!!!”