There was a time when I was a champion for Artsploitation Films. They had a roster of strong independent and foreign films from new or unfamiliar directors. They released fantastic films and took big risks. I loved them for gambling on unknown foreign directors making films that fit into a world that wasn’t quite art house but wasn’t quite genre film either, hence the title artsploitation. They grabbed up the films likely to be ignored by genre labels and art labels. Lately however their film selection has been, for me, uneven. They still release great flicks but also some far less successful films in terms of artistic quality. Instead of readily watching anything they put out, I’ve had to be more selective. It was with this reservation that I popped in Australian film, Red Christmas, starring Dee Wallace.
Red Christmas begins with an abortion clinic. We hear audio clips of pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates while a man carrying a briefcase and a cross walks into the clinic and sets off a bomb hidden in the briefcase. During the chaos the man discovers an aborted baby, still alive in a bucket in the corner. He takes the baby and flees the scene. Fast forward to 20 years later and we meet an Aussie family gathering together to celebrate Christmas. The matriarch of the family is played by Dee Wallace and her husband has passed away. She has three daughters, one pregnant, one incapable of giving birth (who is married to a priest of some kind), and her younger daughter. She also has a son Jerry who has Downs Syndrome. Also included is a crusty older man who I assume was the brother of the deceased husband. Gathering together under one roof they spend the first 45 minutes of the film bickering and being unbelievably unkind to each other. Then a mysterious man arrives covered in wrappings like the mummy and wearing a big black cloak. He tells the family he’s there to read a letter to them. The contents of the letter infuriate the family and they kick him out. Then the killing begins.
I’ll be upfront about Red Christmas: I didn’t like it. One reason being the acidic portrayal of the family. They were so cruel to each other I found it hard to believe that they would willingly associate with each other for any reason whatsoever. Even if people like this exist, why would I want to spend 81 minutes with them? There was no warmth, no understanding, no familial bond. Just anger, selfishness, and unrelenting verbal assaults. By the time the action started I honestly didn’t care at all what happened to the characters. This is a familiar trope in horror films and one that never fails to cause me to dislike them. It undercuts the impact of the violence and makes the film difficult to get through. At best, as an audience member, i can enjoy watching these awful people being dispatched, at worst, I don’t have any investment of any kind. Such is the case here. I also feel that abortion is a topic that, for me, isn’t suited to gory slasher film. It’s too serious of a subject to be handled as nothing more that a catalyst in a low budget slasher flick. I’m not saying the subject can’t/shouldn’t be explored in cinema but for me it needs to be handled with far greater care than is the case in Red Christmas. I’ll be frank and admit I almost turned the film off within the first few minutes because of it.
Now onto the good. The film is well shot using good quality video equipment. There is some great monochromatic lighting on the back end of the film that gives it some style similar to Creepshow. The gore is well done, and not over done. The acting is solid, especially from veteran Dee Wallace and thankfully it’s very short.
These strong suits however, for me, do not overcome the poorly written characters, unrealistic motivations, the handling of abortion in the film, and the general lack of humanity exhibited in the film. It’s an ugly film, populated with ugly characters doing ugly things.