Secret Santa is an audacious piece which juggles bad taste and a rising body count after a Christmas family retreat goes very wrong.
April Pope (A Leslie Kies) wants to get her family together for Christmas to try and heal some rifts. However, old rivalries and problems soon rise to the surface, resulting in an outpouring of physical violence and some vicious home truths.
Director Adam Marcus is perhaps best known for his directorial debut Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, a film I have to admit to not seeing. However, Secret Santa feels very much like a throwback to that early 1990s kind of horror in terms of its presentation and I feel that fans of late 80s and 90s gore will have considerable fun with this.
The snappy and often close to the bone dialogue allows us to settle in for Christmas with an incredibly dysfunctional family for quite some time before the action fully kicks off. Given that the later violence is quite excessive this shows a level of restraint, which contributes to the early feeling of unease in how the night will play out. Thanks to the dialogue this time feels well-spent and the pace does not suffer for it.
Each character is close to (if not entirely) some kind of bawdy stereotype and the acid-tongued comments are very broad. The escalation in their strange behaviour comes some way into the film, which shows a remarkable level of restraint. Still, it is effective as even though most (if not all) the characters are inherently unlikeable, we know them well enough as the threat levels rise to have some understanding of how they’ll respond and everyone does appear to be giving the material their all. Drew Lynch as younger brother Kyle puts in a great performance as one of few characters who are remotely sympathetic, along with Michelle Renee Allaire as Jacqueline. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had with Debra Sullivan’s ultra-bitchy matriarch Shari and hyper-sexed, hammed up Jackson (Nathan Hedrick).
Decent gore effects make the action fairly enjoyable and fights are well choreographed. Still, there is not enough polish to spoil the more grimy, exploitative presentation which adds to the overall feel of the film. It also is not afraid to go full-on with the violence, in ways that frequently slip into overkill, but it suits the tone.
I can imagine that this would play better to a late night festival crowd, rather than a screen at home. Certainly there is room for the broad comedy to travel better within that environment and the level of violence works well in a ‘midnight movie’ capacity. I can’t say that it has made me a fan, but it will certainly find an appreciative audience.
Secret Santa plays at Frightfest 2018 on August 27th and will receive a home-entertainment release in November 2018 courtesy of Frightfest Presents.