Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Charlotte Bond
I believe I can sum this film up in three seasonally appropriate words:
Ho. Ho… Oh.
I love Christmas. Anyone who read my Christmas flash fiction that appeared on Ginger Nuts last year or my article from 2015 about the best Christmas reads will know this. So when the chance to review a Christmas film came up at Ginger Nuts Towers, I leaped on it. Everyone’s seen those brilliant pictures parents post of the crazy, sometimes cruel or sardonic, positions in which they put The Elf on the Shelf each night. With such imaginative ideas floating around, surely a film about this very idea will be dark, brutal and very funny. That film might exist, but it’s not The Elf.
The story centres around Victoria and her fiancé, Nick. We first encounter them out at a pawn or charity shop, looking for toymaker souvenirs for some reason that is never really explained. It’s clear that these two are competent actors, relaxed into their roles; it would just be nice if they were relaxed into roles in the same film. Thanks to the terrible, stilted dialogue, there’s no real chance for chemistry to develop between the two leads. It’s really hard to believe they’d even be friends, never mind lovers. And with no explanation for why they’re there, what they say to each other seems to have very little rational meaning.
While their presence in the shop might remain unexplained, a call from Victoria’s friend, Sky, provides a massive plot dump for the rest of the film. If you didn’t notice the stilted dialogue before, it’ll certainly be painfully evident when you watch this scene.
To be fair to this film, there were a few good bits. As I mentioned above, the two actors seem reasonably competent. In addition, the section where Nick finds the doll is almost atmospheric and creepy. I really enjoyed the later “hunt” through the basement with Victoria’s father, and the incapacitation of the mother by means of a close-up ankle slash actually made me jump slightly when the blood splattered the screen. Those scenes were nicely done.
But those moments of entertainment can be counted on one hand and the majority of the film is really quite terrible – and not even in a fun way. I mean, Seasons of Belief, an episode from the third season of Tales from the Dark Side, was quite terrible, but it was filled with Christmas decorations and had a proper seasonal feel to it. The Elf didn’t even have that going for it, since a main part of the story was that Nick eschewed everything Christmassy. I’m willing to forgive a lot to experience a proper Christmassy atmosphere, but there wasn’t even that redeeming feature here.
The music, so often an essential part of a movie, was decent enough, but like the actors, you kind of felt that it was a score that had been designed for a completely different film. It was loud in the wrong places and at one point horrendously clashed with some music box music that was playing as part of a scene.
I really enjoyed the opening of the movie, which was a kind of prologue to the film. We are shown an old man in a cold, dark room, sewing together an immobile child’s lips, the titular elf lying next to him. The man’s earnestness and good intentions are clear, and as a sinister shadow advances on him, I had high hopes that this might be something genuinely dark and creepy. But the film never manages to live up to the promise of this introduction, and the flashback that follows later on in the film (relating to Nick’s past) is just confusing and badly done.
The technical aspects of the film are also a bit amateurish as well. The film is badly edited – you can practically see Victoria hanging back, waiting for the director to shout “action” before she starts moving and talking when Sky calls her; the conversation that follows contains so many empty spaces of dialogue, it’s quite laughable. The camerawork leaves a lot to be desired as well. It’s very shaky, clearly a handheld, and while I don’t mind that in my horror films, I actually laughed out loud when there was a loud noise on screen and the shot jerked to the side, a result of the cameraman clearly jumping at the sound on set. I mean, who doesn’t go back and reshoot a scene like that?
To say that the carved elf is the least wooden character in this would be unfair, but it’s a close call. Combined with a bad score, shoddy camerawork, unpardonable editing and dialogue that is as sluggish as a dying victim crawling through the snow, I think you’re best giving this film a miss and going to play with your own Elf on a Shelf: you’re likely to create more terrifying situations than you’ll see here.