There’s been a fairly steady stream of horror anthologies since the release of VHS, and Holidays is definitely one of the better ones. As one might expect, the segments are all holiday-themed, from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve, and that clear, simple structure is perfect for the anthology format.
It doesn’t have a wraparound component, but the film is better off for it because: 1) I’ve still yet to see a horror anthology with effective connective tissue; and, 2) it’s completely unnecessary here. Similar to The ABCs of Death, Holidays comes with the understanding that the film will move from one holiday to the next and that gets the job done in terms of segment-to-segment transitions.
As for the short films themselves, some are stronger than others but it’s important to note that Holidays rocks quality filmmaking across the board. Production value is generally sky high and most of the pieces feature clever concepts backed by palpable enthusiasm from the filmmakers. The only issue that does crop up in some segments is a weak punchline. Yes, you can tell a comprehensive story in the short form, but with horror shorts, the tendency is to build suspense and then dish out a shocking and/or mortifying final moment. The structure can be very effective, but if you don’t nail that last beat, it makes the piece less satisfying.
Keeping that in mind, the best of the bunch are the segments for St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve. The St. Patrick’s Day one comes from Gary Shore, the director behind Dracula Untold. While that movie didn’t wind up being the best calling card, you really get a sense of what he’s capable of here. Not only does that segment boast some of the most striking visuals, but one of the strongest lead performances as well from Ruth Bradley. The piece has a very specific blend of horror, zaniness and dark humor, and Shore manages to bring them all together well through Bradley’s work and some spot-on editing.
The New Year’s Eve segment is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer and written by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, and the piece marks one of best twists in the whole anthology. Any drastic story shift can come with some serious shock value, but what makes this one especially powerful is that Mortimer does an especially good job getting the viewer to fall into step with the main character before switching gears. You’re so caught up in what he’s doing that any change to his routine hits hard and actually means something.
The Christmas, Father’s Day and Halloween segments don’t make the same lasting impression, but they’re still solid short stories. Father’s Day is particularly impressive. Jocelin Donahue (The House of the Devil) continues to prove that she can carry a film with minimal dialogue. Here she plays Carol, a woman trying to track down her father with the help of a recorded message he sends to her from beyond the grave. Carol’s present search pairs beautifully with her late father’s message, upping the intensity of her search with every step while also giving the short narrative more emotion and meaning than you might expect. The Mother’s Day vignette cuts off a bit abruptly for my taste, but it’s worth noting that putting Mother’s Day and Father’s Day back-to-back adds a nice touch.
Scott Stewart’s Christmas segment feels like it could have come straight out of Black Mirror. It stars Seth Green as a father desperately trying to get his son the ultimate Christmas gift – a UVU, a hot new headset that brings your imagination to life and “shows you you.” It’s a fun concept for anyone who’s into tech and Green’s character does get himself into a curious predicament that makes the most of the concept within the short story format.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that Kevin Smith’s entry might rub some the wrong way. The performances and camerawork here aren’t as impressive as in the aforementioned segments, but Smith does really suck you into the story of a group of girls who are duped by an online ad and basically become webcam performers/sex slaves for a guy named Ian (Harley Morenstein). I’ll stop there for the sake of steering clear of spoilers, but it’s one of those situations that’ll have you shouting, “no,” over and over at the screen until Smith finally goes there.
The least impressive segments on the line-up are Easter and Valentine’s Day, but they’re certainly not bad films by any means. They just pale in comparison to the others, which is the risk you take when making an anthology. But, one thing Holidays does have going for it in that respect is that there isn’t one single entry that blows the rest out of the water, like “Safe Haven” in VHS 2. Every single segment in Holidays is of a certain quality and every single one holds your attention. Some are just more refined and impactful than others.
Holidays debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, release date TBD.