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“HOLIDAYS” (Movie Review)

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HOLIDAYS is worth celebrating. Tackling such a perfect subject for an anthology horror film that it’s a surprise no one’s done it before, it offers an overall satisfying assortment of approaches to perverting those special times of year.

Out today on VOD and hitting theaters next Friday after world-premiering last night at the Tribeca Film Festival, HOLIDAYS almost beats the upcoming XX to the punch by focusing largely on female protagonists and predicaments. It begins by turning the sweetest holiday sour with “Valentine’s Day,” in which STARRY EYES creators Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer get a gleefully macabre, TALES FROM THE CRYPT-esque vibe going. Their heroine is Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan), an awkward high-school girl nursing a crush on her handsome swim coach, who’s in need of a heart operation. While it’s not hard to see where this is going after a certain point, the filmmaking duo play it at just the right heightened pitch (with strong musical assist from EYES composer Jonathan Snipes) to keep it ghoulishly entertaining throughout.

Another odd girl out at school, but a much more confident one, causes all the trouble in Gary Shore’s “St. Patrick’s Day.” Isolt McCaffrey is a little discovery as a redheaded Dublin grade-schooler with ties to her country’s pagan background, who makes life…interesting for one of her teachers. The balance between horror and humor here isn’t quite as steady as in the preceding tale, but Shore effectively mines Ireland’s macabre folklore to make this one of the most appealingly idiosyncratic segments here.

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Then Nicholas McCarthy steps up to make “Easter” the film’s nightmarish highlight. Another strong performance by a young actress (Ava Acres) and memorable monster FX (supervised by Jason Collins) combine for a supremely creepy late-night encounter in which that child learns that this particular holiday’s two icons have more in common than anyone ever suspected. Like the best short-form horror, it’s scarily self-contained while leaving one anxious to see what could be done with the material in feature-length form; should the PACT and AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR director decide to go that route, he might well add a new icon to the pantheon of screen bogeymen.

As we move on to “Mother’s Day,” THE MIDNIGHT SWIM creator Sarah Adina Smith once again proves her skill at addressing women’s concerns while avoiding a didactically “feminist” slant. Here, the focus is on a young woman (Sophie Traub) who ventures to a fertility clinic in the California desert for the opposite of the usual reason: She gets pregnant too easily. That makes her perfect for what prove to be the very dark purposes of the group, and if the ending is rather abrupt just as their endgame is revealed, the journey there is an effectively mysterious and well-acted one (the cast also includes A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT’s Sheila Vand).

Anthony Scott Burns’ “Father’s Day” similarly might have benefitted from a stronger punchline, but is thoroughly gripping up to that point. The always welcome Jocelin Donahue (from THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE BURROWERS) plays a young woman who receives a tape player and cassette from her long-lost father, which leads her to trek through a ruined seaside town to reunite with him. Perfectly caught atmosphere, Donahue’s expressive, largely silent performance and perfectly pitched voiceovers by Michael Gross as the dad keep us tense and guessing throughout. The less said about Kevin Smith’s “Halloween,” though, the better, other than to note that it has nothing really to do with All Hallow’s Eve and could have been set on any night—and would have been just as crass, juvenile and tiresomely profane.

Things improve, and get back to CRYPT territory, with Scott Stewart’s “Christmas,” featuring the most recognizable lead, Seth Green. He plays a harried husband who will do anything to get the hottest gadget on Christmas Eve, and discovers that this particular device has a way of showing people unpleasant things about themselves. Although the story seems to be headed in the direction of an EC-style comeuppance, Stewart closes instead with a wicked and entirely appropriate kicker.

Finally, Adam Egypt Mortimer, working from a script by Kolsch and Widmyer, closes things out with “New Year’s Eve.” Keying in to emotions directly related to this night, they present a couple (enthusiastically played by genre regulars Andrew Bowen and Lorenza Izzo) who meet via an on-line dating service, and demonstrate that there are worse things than being alone as the Times Square ball drops. This is the most gruesome of the segments, and Mortimer brings to it the same bloody black-comic relish with which he handled his feature SOME KIND OF HATE.

One of the pleasing things about HOLIDAYS is that none of the contributions (Smith’s excepted, ironically) feel like they were made simply to satisfy the thematic requirements of an anthology project. Each carries the inspiration and dedication to its specific story of an original short film, and if the lack of a framing device (beyond greeting-card bumpers after each) means the movie plays more like a shorts festival than a unified feature, there’s also a good side to that. The entries all have their own personalities and points of view, and whether by design or happy accident, the tonal shifts from one to the next flow smoothly. As a showcase for both some of the genre’s strongest talent and the many transgressive possibilities inherent in its subject, HOLIDAYS is a gift horror fans will be happy to open.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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