(Written and Directed by Kevin Smith and a lot of other people)
(Starring Seth Green, Madeleine Coghlan, Ruth Bradley and a lot of other people)
Plot: This is a horror anthology film, with each short being based around a different holiday.
“Holidays” teaches us how difficult it is to make a successful anthology, for even though it boasts a decent collection of talented filmmakers, none of them really seem to know how these kinds of movies work…or how short films work…or even how the horror genre works…I find this to be very interesting, because all of them seem to understand the craft of cinema, as every minute of “Holidays” is competent on a technical level. The acting, cinematography, editing and production values are at least adequate, if not good. Yet none of these filmmakers, for all of their collective experience, ever considered selecting stories that could be told within the confines of 15 minutes? You can argue that the emphasis is on ‘gimmick’- reflecting their chosen holidays- instead of ‘story’, but I would fire back that the directors seem to disagree with you…as all of them penned scripts that treat the holidays as an afterthought, with some barely having anything to do with the days in question. These shorts demand that we care for their characters, even though there isn’t any time to flesh out their personalities or develop them. How can you build up any atmosphere or tension in such a short amount of time? You can’t! Nearly every short suffers from anti-climactic endings, because they all finish with cheap jump scares just as they’re ‘starting’ to become interesting. Instead of climaxing, the narrative abruptly stops and starts over with the next story, so “Holidays” continuously kept me unsatisfied. Anthologies require shorts that function on their own and as part of a collective whole, but each director crafts tales that don’t mesh well with the others. There are a lot of repeated themes and ideas, while the tones are both too consistent AND too diverse. This project seriously needed someone to creatively oversee what the others were doing, so everyone would share the same vision. Instead, it feels like the directors had free reign to do whatever they wanted, even if their decisions made absolutely no sense within the context of the overall product. But for now, let’s discuss each of the shorts and their strengths, failures and…more failures.
VALENTINE’S DAY (written, directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer)– I found this to be underwhelming, primarily because this story requires us to be invested in the characters and their plights. Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) is bullied in high school and her only solace is obsessing over her Coach (Rick Peters), who is going through health problems…and marital ones, for some random reason. I didn’t know enough about these people, despite some contrived exposition, to give a shit about their problems. Even though Valentine’s Day is name-dropped quite often, this plot does not require the Holiday, although the lighting reflects it pretty well. I found the tone to be disorienting, for it begins as an over-the-top satire with cartoonish characterizations and upbeat pop songs, suddenly changes into a fairly disturbing thriller and then back into a farce for the conclusion…The stalking scene was pretty good, but the final image isn’t as amusing or as creepy as it seems to think it is and I was more interested in what happened next than what I had just watched. I generally did not like the humor, although I found this short to be watchable, if a bit lackluster as the introduction to this anthology. That is a major problem though, as the better anthologies have relatively solid openings, as they set the pace for the remainder of the feature and give us a taste of things to come…OK, now that I really think about it, I guess “Valentine’s Day” DID set the pace for the remainder of the feature and DID give us a taste of things to come. But if the majority of the other shorts are slow, underwhelming and annoying as well, then perhaps you want to start off with a better one, so you can at least build some momentum.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY (written & directed by Gary Shore)– “St. Patrick’s Day” starts off pretty strong, establishing an eccentric and foreboding atmosphere that gradually deteriorates until you begin to beg for the anti-climactic ending to come and rescue you from this boring hell. A school teacher (Ruth Bradley) wants to have a baby and soon she gets her wish…unfortunately, she’s giving a birth to a snake, thanks to apparent cult intervention. At first, I thought there was a nice balance of humor and creepiness. There are some spooky, eye popping visuals and I liked how the director embraced the color scheme of his chosen holiday (green). The comedy worked for me because the cast delivered their weird, surreal lines with straight faces, which I find to be funny. But soon the characterizations become too broad and…nothing really seems to happen. Our heroine is driven insane, but once again, this story requires a lot more time to flesh this angle out. One moment she is perfectly stable and the next she’s sniffing baby clothing like a crazy person. The finale drops all pretenses of being horror and instead opts for goofiness, but I wasn’t amused…although I was kind of confused. Once again, the plot does not require this to take place on St. Patrick’s Day. I actually feel like the ‘cult’ storyline was not necessary, as I believe it would’ve been spookier if there wasn’t an explicit reason why she was carrying a snake in her womb. Also, wouldn’t the pregnancy angle work better for the “Mother’s Day” short? This is what I mean by ‘repeated themes and ideas’, so the “Mother’s Day” short is doomed to be watered down thanks to this story. “St. Patrick’s Day” was probably the slowest paced of all the shorts, so probably should not have been one of the earlier ones.
EASTER (written & directed by Nicholas McCarthy)– This is…better? I guess? This is the first…and last…short that cannot exist without the Holiday and there is some thought provoking stuff here. A little girl (Ava Acres) is discussing the origins of Easter with her Mother (Petra Wright) and I’ve never really thought about how terrifying the stories of Jesus and the Easter Bunny can be from the perspective of a child. I found their conversation to be very well written, although I’m not sure why they had to bring up her absentee Father, as it leads nowhere and the “Father’s Day” short would also deal with absentee Fathers…*sigh*…During the middle of the night, the girl leaves her room to get a glass of water, but runs afoul a monstrous abomination…that appears to a fusion of the Easter Bunny and…Jesus? This concept is awesomely bizarre and the makeup effects are surprisingly good, being both absurd and ghastly. There’s some decent suspense here too, but just as it starts to get interesting, it ends…leaving me very frustrated…again…There are also too many loose ends, as if this story was designed to fill a full length feature, not a 10-15 minute short. But at least this was OK thanks to its morbid imagination and provocative dialogue.
MOTHER’S DAY (written & directed by Sarah Adina Smith)– A woman (Sofie Traub) becomes pregnant every time she has sex, regardless of how much protection she uses, so visits an isolated fertility clinic that is a front for a coven with sinister intentions. This is arguably the worst part of the anthology, because I’m not sure this even qualifies as a real ‘short film’. It feels more like a compilation of clips taken from a much longer movie. Our heroine has absolutely no personality and I was wondering why she stayed once they started doing ritualistic dances, as most people would’ve fled as soon as everyone started stripping. Maybe she’s a weak willed individual? Maybe she’s fascinated by witchcraft? Maybe she was hoping that it would lead to some bizarre, lesbian orgy? We don’t know anything about this character outside of her dilemma, so this entire plot is hard to swallow and repeats themes already established in “St. Patrick’s Day” (cults causing unwanted pregnancies with apocalyptic implications). The majority of the screen-time is dedicated to people dancing around in the nude and I kept wondering why the camera was lingering on the naked ass of an old, obese woman. That shot seemingly lasted forever and lead absolutely nowhere. This entire short was directionless in general though, lethargically crawling to an infuriatingly stupid ending that makes little-to-no sense. Then again, little made sense in “Mother’s Day“, so maybe it makes sense for the ending to make no sense…
FATHER’S DAY (written & directed by Anthony Scott Burns)- This is the best of the shorts, providing a much needed breather from suckitude after the tedious “Mother’s Day“, although this does disrupt the tone of “Holidays“. All of the other short films had a certain amount of comedy, whether it be satirical or farcical, but “Father’s Day” is bleak and humorless. A Teacher (Jocelin Donahue)- yes, another teacher- receives a mysterious cassette from her estranged Father (Michael Gross), who leaves instructions on how she can find him. The build up to the climax was excellent, with the right combination of drama, suspense and intrigue. I made an emotional connection to the heroine (Donahue is an exceptional actress) and wanted to see her reconnect with her Dad, who sounds like a really cool guy based on the recording (Michael Gross might only be a disembodied voice here, but he gives the best performance OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE). The pacing was perfect, as they drop the right amount of clues at the right moments to add to the mystery. The locations become progressively sinister as time moves along, adding layers of dread to the foreboding atmosphere, making me afraid of where this was going…and then the ending disappointed me. *Sigh*. To be fair, it did provide a decent jump, but the “why” was way too vague for my tastes. Still, even if the build up was better than the resolution, at least it had my attention throughout its entire (brief) running-time. This is the only one I would recommend you check out, but the creepier tone contrasts too much with the others, so it feels weirdly out-of-place.
HALLOWEEN (written & directed by Kevin Smith)- Ian (Harley Morenstein) runs a web-cam sex show, but despite charming ladies into doing his bidding, he becomes cruel once he has them under his control. When he pushes too far, they decide to get revenge…Oh yeah, this takes place on Halloween…I guess I need to point that out, because of all the shorts, this one is the most detached from its chosen holiday…even though it’s f@cking Halloween, the most horror-friendly holiday out there! Kevin Smith was the big draw for “Holidays“, because I highly doubt anyone watched “Holidays” to see anything from the guy who gave us “Dracula Untold“, but this sucked HARD. It’s supposed to be funny, but the vulgar dialogue is so oppressively annoying. When Smith does enter horror territory, the emphasis is more on shock value than scares. Ian gets a vibrator shoved up his ass, which is super-glued shut and somehow the ladies are able to electrocute him through it…Huh? When they give him a knife and instruct him to castrate himself, my immediate thought was: “Why doesn’t he just cut the f@cking chord to the vibrator?“. “Hallowe“- Er, I’m not granting it the same title as “Halloween“- is filled with plot holes like this. At least it technically has a pay-off though. In fact, this is the only short that got its ending right. Even if the rest was wrong. I’ve yet to experience Kevin Smith’s other contributions to the horror genre (“Red State“, “Tusk“, “Yoga Hosers“), but his work here really disappointed me as I usually do enjoy his style of comedy.
CHRISTMAS (written & directed by Scott Stewart)- It’s Christmas Eve and Pete (Seth Green) needs to get a virtual reality head-set for his son, but the last one was purchased by someone else- who collapses on the street, due to a heart condition. Pete lets him die so he can steal the gift, but after trying on the head-set himself, he sees visions of his crime. Is the head set recording his memories? Is he going insane? Or is he being haunted? This short sucked too, as it’s another directionless tale riddled with plot holes. His son says everyone sees something different on the device based on their online data, but we never see anyone logging in or out…and other characters start to see each-others virtual feeds anyway…The “Christmas” segment made no sense! How is the headset recording from the POV of someone who was not even wearing it? I’m confused! The jokes are predictable, there aren’t any scares and the story was a mess. Boring and stupid.
NEW YEAR’S EVE (written by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer)– Reggie (Andrew Bowen) is a serial killer who uses dating websites to lure victims into his web of madness and death, but his current date (Lorenza Izzo) might be even crazier than he is. This short was too…short. I was initially bored, as too much time is spent on an awkward conversation that’s rendered meaningless because he know that Reggie is a monster from the opening scene. His mannerisms should’ve been subtlety predatory during their date, as that would build suspense. Or they could’ve held back in revealing Reggie to be a killer, making his sinister intentions a shocking twist- which would distract us from the REAL twist. But I will admit to enjoying myself once the tables started to turn and I only wish more time was spent on their murderous collision. Once again, the plot does not require the holiday and I actually found myself thinking that this would be more fitting as a Valentine’s Day short. So many wasted opportunities, but at least this one was pretty fun.
I think it was a mistake to have 8 different shorts, especially as the majority of these horror-themed situations are only scary when we care for the people in peril. If they had cut the number in half, maybe there would be more time to flesh out the stories, develop the characters and build up suspense. Yet they not only spread themselves too thin, but the stories just don’t work very well together. There’s too much redundancy, as so many episodes share the same ideas and themes. The tone either needed to be more diverse or consistent, as the ONE attempt to tell a darker story stands out awkwardly amongst the rest. I understand that these shorts are placed in a way to correlate with the dates of the holidays, but the order was sloppy from an anthology perspective. The pacing was all wrong, as the faster entries belong in the beginning and end of the movie, with the slower ones dominating the bulk of the middle block. It’s also obvious that the majority of the filmmakers weren’t really interested in the holiday gimmick, as their stories can take place on any other day of the year. “Holidays” is not necessarily unwatchable and the “Father’s Day” short is probably worth watching on its own, but anthologies require the right kind of presentation to be consistently entertaining…and it seems like each one here had a slow burn build, only to end prematurely…leaving the audience as the unsatisfied partner in this relationship.
Violence: Rated R- it’s pretty violent.
Nudity: I think “Mother’s Day” is the only one that had nudity, but you will wish it didn’t.
Overall: “Holidays” might look polished, but it’s pretty bad. All of the shorts are paced in the same, methodical way and yet none of them reach any kind of crescendo. It’s a flat, bland film that provides a very frustrating case of the blue balls for its audience.