Review: Holidays (2016)


© Rialto Distribution

© Rialto Distribution

I'm a little bit of a horror junkie, and I will do whatever I can to search out as many horror films as possible, no matter how obscure they might be. One of my personal favorite sub-genres in the realm of horror comes in the form of anthology films, which blend a series of segments or vignettes that either add to a larger story or follow one particular theme that resonates throughout the feature-length runtime. Some of my personal favorites include 1982's Creepshow and 2007's Trick 'r Treat, which were directed by George A. Romero and Michael Dougherty, respectively. In my opinion, those films succeeded because they relied on one director's vision in bringing all of the stories together, ultimately making a more fully cohesive experience. In the past few years, however, the horror community has started to see an upswing of anthologies featuring handfuls of individuals directing individual segments. Films like this year's Southbound and the V/H/S franchise fall into this category, and I feel as though they have a more difficult time crafting their stories and themes and themes into one communal tone. They may be pushing the envelope on shock value, but the overall experience ultimately suffers without one binding presence. 

Holidays hopes to buck that trend by offering an anthology film based around - you guessed it - holidays. The movie offers eight different segments, each one of which takes direct inspiration from a different popular holiday and twists the tale into something short and horrific. The stories are told in calendar order, not that the timeline has any real pertinence to the film as a whole. Before I discuss the film as a whole, I want to break down each segment briefly and talk about which ones work better than the rest. 

Valentine's Day
Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch get the film off to a solid start with the story of a high school swimmer bullied by her teammates for her apparent depression as well as her less-than-hidden affections for their coach. Madeleine Coghlan does a fine job as our unspeaking lead, but her performance's quality may partly be attributed to the painfully bad one given by her on-screen rival, Savannah Kennick. Still, the segment works relatively well and kicks Holidays off with a true sense of the macabre. Of all the film's segments, this is one that I would like to see expanded to a longer runtime, if only to flesh out a few interesting touches that might have been skipped for lack of space.

St. Patrick's Day
Gary Shore, the director of 2014's Dracula Untold, brings us the only segment not set on American soil. The story follows a young schoolteacher (Ruth Bradley) who dreams of having a child, but after one fateful Paddy's Day, she finds herself impregnated with something not quite human. The story does well in crafting parallels between Bradley's struggle and the story of Saint Patrick expelling serpents from Ireland isle, but the segment unfortunately takes a few liberties that prove to be too over-the-top for my personal taste. It makes a number of overt references to other films that play directly into the storyline but only make this one feel more like a rip-off than an homage. The final payoff also proves to be too laughable, and not in the sense that Holidays is attempting to be a horror-comedy. 

Did the idea of the Easter Bunny breaking into your home ever terrify you as a child? Did the concept of the risen Christ Jesus roaming the earth an undead zombie ever cross your mind? If you've ever had these fears and concerns, then perhaps Nicholas McCarthy's bizarre Easter mashup will cater more to you than it did to me. The young Ava Acres anchors the story of a little girl terrified of the possibility of some unseen monster leaving her gifts she'll awake to in the morning. When she wakes in the middle of the night to find the creature in her home, the segment takes an absurd yet imaginative twist. What ultimately hurts this segment are a few moments of shoddy storytelling and unpaid exposition. That, and one unnecessary throwaway scene of the girl's mother (Petra Wright) preparing to pleasure herself before a crucifix (no, I don't mean in a Regan MacNeil kind of way).

Mother's Day
Sarah Adina Smith's Mother's Day segment sadly proves to be the least accessible section of the film. We quickly learn that Kate (Sophie Traub) becomes pregnant after each and every act of intercourse and as a result has terminated nearly twenty pregnancies by the ripe old age of twenty-four. She opts into attending an all-natural fertility clinic in the middle of the desert in the hopes of finding a way to become less fertile. The story loosely explains her predicament but glosses over the horrifying aspect of her affliction, leaving the audience to scratch its head as the segment meanders through a few arduous minutes of a borderline catatonic Traub being handled by the clinic's nurses. The segment means unexpectedly and shockingly, and while I can start to gather the goings-on of the story, it almost felt a tad bit rushed. This one could have benefited from another few minutes to allow more insight into Kate's predicament, but perhaps the mystery was the plan all along. 

Father's Day
In contrast, the Father's Day segment just might be the best-directed one of the bunch. The story follows Carol (Jocelin Donahue) after she receives a mysterious package containing an unlabeled cassette. On the tape, she hears her father's voice beckoning her to come find him. Having thought him to be dead for years, she follows the instructions on the tape which ultimately lead her to the last place she ever saw him alive. Anthony Scott Burns does a fantastic job in setting an ominous atmosphere with this segment, allowing the tension to grow slowly as we build toward the climactic moment. Seeing as this is a horror anthology, we can readily assume that all will not end well, but it's in the unknowing of just how everything will unravel that we derive our terror. Unfortunately, the final reveal itself leaves something to be desired, but with this segment, the journey means so much more than the destination. 

Part of me had hoped the film would skip over the iconic Halloween holiday simply because it has already proven to be well-trodden territory in the genre. With none other than Kevin Smith behind the camera, however, I had high hopes that this segment would stand above the rest, and it surely does not disappoint. Smith continues his recent horror kick by directing Harley Morenstein as Ian, the pervy "agent" for a service featuring young girls on webcams. He currently has a trio of girls, led by Smith's own daughter Harley Quinn, at his beck and call, but when he tries to force himself on one of them, the three work together to exact their own brand of vengeance. Where the previous segment worked best with its source of tension, I think Smith's Halloween segment offers the best blend of comedy and horror to be seen in the film. He gives his two Harley's the opportunity to lead the show, and both prove to be rather effective in their roles. I'll admit that I'm a tad bit biased, but Kevin Smith's entry into Holidays is easily my favorite of the bunch. 

Although not as ripe as Halloween, I had also hoped that the Christmas season might be passed by for this particular anthology venture, but alas, the filmmakers made sure to hit the obvious points. Scott Stewart, who directed such feature-length films as Legion and Priest, brings us a story about a virtual reality headset that shows its users their everyday lives from the visual perspective of the people with whom they have interacted. In a way, it's an avenue to watch your life as though it were a film, and you were the star. Seth Green serves as our leading man, a spineless character in a seemingly loveless marriage who is dead set on securing the headset for his son as a Christmas gift. When he places the headset on himself, however, he starts to see a side of himself he had never previously noticed. The story offers a few twists and turns, keeping you guessing as you make your way to the climactic moments, but it all proves to be a tad bit fleeting. An interesting premise, it's one that I would like to see expanded; there could be a feature-length film crafted from this one. 

New Year's Eve
The Holidays should have ended at Christmas. Adam Egypt Mortimer gives us a glance at a murderous man (Andrew Bowen) looking for a New Year's date whom he finds through an Internet site. Lorenza Izzo, whom I recognized from The Green Inferno, stars as the aforementioned female set on avoiding a lonely New Year's night as well. As the two make their way back to their apartment, they both realize they'll be getting exactly what they want from the evening; sadly, the audience doesn't. This final segment simply didn't work, and I can't tell whether it's the segment itself or simply a product of fatigue. Were this portion placed earlier in the film, I might have been more invested, but after having cycled through countless characters by this point, I just couldn't bring myself to care about these two. The segment proves predictable and dull, and for a short film so focused on when the ball will drop, it sure did drop the ball. 

As a whole, Holidays mostly functions as an interesting foray into different directorial styles. We see one veteran in Kevin Smith stand above the rest, and I'll definitely be keeping my eye on the future of Andrew Scott Burns. Does Holidays ultimately pull itself together as a cohesive anthology? I don't think so. Too many of its segments stray too far away from their source objective, taking surface level concepts and crafting their storylines from there. To do so is the filmmakers prerogative, to be sure, but when bringing an anthology together, we need to have some more concrete tissue to hold everything tightly. Ultimately, Holidays simply works more as a fine exposé for budding horror directors than as an anthology film in the truest sense of the word.