Director: Joe Begos (USA). Year of Release: 2022
A tv flicking through channels offering inappropriate Christmas gifts. Whisky for all the family, mummy doing much more than just kissing Santa Claus, RoboSanta+, an animatronic Father Christmas that “replaces your local degenerate mall Santa.” The advert says that RoboSanta+ was originally developed by the military. Later news reports, which address the cinema audience rather than the people not really watching tv, announce that RoboSanta+ is soon to be withdrawn.
It’s Christmas Eve, and Tori has a Tinder date. Tori owns her own bar which seems to sell vinyl only. She acts as an oracle for her sad male customers. One comes to the counter looking for a last-minute Christmas present for his girlfriend. Tori, who obviously knows said gf, says that she has both albums he is asking to buy, and dismisses his other suggestions as being just too lame. She digs out an album by an obscure new band that she’d seen at a festival with the girlfriend.
Tori is the ideal crush for a 14-year old boy. She enjoys both sex and drinking, and talks endlessly about bands and films which are not mainstream but also not so obscure that they are truly subversive. A discussion with Robbie, who has been working for her for years, about the best ever Christmas single suggests that the only 2 good Christmas songs ever were by the Ramones and Lemmy. Tori is hip to the sort of people who wear Ramones t-shirts but don’t know the band.
In fact, for all her list making, Tori could be a 14-year old boy, if it were not for the fact that she has a much more successful sex life. Early parts of the film includes arguments with Robbie about Metallica, Soundgarden and the second Blair Witch Project film. It is the sort of conversation that sounds like spectacular witty banter to the people who are having it (and to be fair on Tori and Robbie, they are pretty pissed by this stage) but is absolutely tedious to anyone having to listen in.
Robbie convinces Tori not to go on the Tinder date, but to go on the piss with him instead. For reasons of Plot, they go to the local toy store, which is run by one of Tori’s mates. At the front of the store there is a RoboSanta+. A tv report, which no-one listens to, explains that the Santas are being withdrawn because they are “reverting to the Defence Department firmware”. That may seem like a big deal to you or me, but they’re not going to be taken back until the week-end.
Sure enough, once Tori and Robbie leave the toy shop, Santa+ comes to life, and picks up the nearest axe (because there are always axes lying around toy shops, right?) He butchers Tori’s mate and her boyfriend when they’re in flagrante. This is aurally witnessed by Tori and Robbie after the bartender has finally closed up and told them to go home. Given the number of drinks we see them necking in the bar, they were either drinking really quickly or Santa+ is a really slow operator.
What happens next is slightly bizarre. We have already ascertained that Tori lives in a fairly lively city, and that her house far enough out of town to require her to drive back. And yet, when Santa+ has finished butchering Tori’s mates, he doesn’t next go for whoever is in the next house, but treks halfway around town to track down Tori. And then, once he’s there, he doesn’t attack her, but her neighbours and their son.
We are never told why Santa+ is particularly fixated on Tori. This is logically strange, but on one level, there shouldn’t be any problems with this. There are plenty of dumb horror movies whose logic does not stand up to close scrutiny. Why can’t you just sit back and enjoy it for what it is? My answer would be that a film needs to earn the right to be dumb. It has to have a certain internal logic, and not just be one stupid thing after another.
There is a reason why many horror films are set in a remote place outside society. Actually there’s more than one reason. Firstly, it means that the same characters continually come face-to-face with the killer. But also, it means that no-one is available to sound the alarm and summon help. Here, help is summoned more than once, but it never arrives, for reasons which are never fully explained.
Police, with radios, witness an axeman on the rampage. Tori is even briefly detained by the police because she is caught fleeing the scene covered in blood (she gets out of this as she seems to know the police chief. Although the film is set in a biggish city, it follows the genre conventions of everyone knowing each other). This means that Santa+ can run rampage in a city without police or even passers by. On Christmas Eve.
While there is some talk of other divisions being busy, are we really supposed to believe that no-one would be sent to investigate mass homicide? That no local residents would have a peek at what is happening, or at the very least get the fuck out of Dodge? While we’re on this, why do we hear that a design fault which leads to murderous Santas can be postponed until the week-end?
I am very self-conscious that I should maybe not be treating these plot implausibilities so seriously. Maybe if the film were itself not so earnest, I wouldn’t have to. But this is not the sort of fun film which winks to the camera and revels in the absurdity of it all. It just takes itself way too seriously. If you want me to laugh at your silliness, you need to provide characters that aren’t trying quite so hard to be hip. The end result is a film which is ridiculous rather than being just plain silly.