Abortions—or more specifically: protecting women’s ability to have access to and choose medical procedures—have been something of a hot topic, for I don’t know…the last hundred years? Things of course have heated up in the last few years thanks to Donnie The Giant Peach and his crusade against anything remotely resembling decency.
Which is probably why, despite being an Aussie production, Red Christmas feels both poignant and disturbing. Centering on a family’s holiday gathering in their family home, Red Christmas is a to-the-point home invasion slasher film that has some interesting digressions and even more interesting subplots.
Matriarch Diane (Dee Wallace) has invited her family home for what may be the last time. After the death of her husband, she had promised him and herself that she’d move on up out of the empty nest. Pregnant daughter Suzy (Sarah Bishop) has problems with it, while devout christian daughter Ginny (Janis McGavin) and her husband Peter (David Collins) tag along for all the domestic infighting. Meanwhile Uncle Joe (Geoff Morrell) is just happy to get a swig here and there. And Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), her only son who has Down syndrome. Sadly, this pretty rote family get together is crashed by the cloaked Cletus, who is fresh off relieving a trashy homeowner of his penis not too far away.
“Red Christmas is a to-the-point home invasion slasher film that has some interesting digressions and even more interesting subplots.”
The family is instantly repulsed by Cletus, who’s face and body are wrapped in cloth to hide his hideous visage, making him not unlike Shelly Godfrey from Netflix’s Hemlock Grove. But I digress. After a bit of back and forth, Cletus is evicted when he reads a letter to his mother, dredging up Diane’s dark past, revealing his deep extremist Christian beliefs and calling folks who conduct abortions “baby killers.” This ejection throws Cletus into a mad rage, and he spends the rest of the film picking off Diane’s family one by one.
Of the many things we could talk about, there are two things I’d like to focus on with Red Christmas. The first is that it’s quite expressionistic with its lighting. Christmas, and Cletus’ “Ghost of Christmas Future” shtick, are fertile ground for director Craig Anderson & co. to bathe victims in a cacophony of colored light and menacing shadows. The sum effect is that entire rooms become vibrantly contrasted prisons as Cletus stalks his victims. What’s most striking about this is that more often than not we don’t see blood in its natural red hue. Instead it swallows the multi-colored light, often showing up as a black bile that oozes from victim’s bodies. Lighting then is a terrifying and hyper-stylistic choice by which night time in the narrative world is a dangerous carnival of the obscene.
The other interesting thing about this flick is that it tries to construct a complex narrative around the issue of abortion. Through the film, we learn that Cletus is in fact Diane’s *other* son that she thought she had aborted.
“…it also fumbles with larger political and moral questions like: who gets to choose what a woman’s choice is?”
The kicker being that she didn’t want another child with Down syndrome, as her husband had fallen sick. And, it’s implied that she wouldn’t be able to properly care for two children with the disorder. This of course creates some serious dramatic tension and a great twist near the end of the film.
Despite this, it also fumbles with larger political and moral questions like: who gets to choose what a woman’s choice is? Is Diane wrong? Who are we to judge? Besides being a convenient plot point, the abated abortion pitches the fundamentalism of “issa human at conception” against “people with wombs have a right to biological self-determination” and “what are the ethical implications of aborting children with predicted disabilities?” I think that, on a certain level, this bold-faced presentation of this conversation is good.
Ultimately, the film is too focused on being a thorough slasher to have the space to do this political and cerebral topic real justice. If an open-handed approach to these issues is tabula rasa, well then Red Christmas is tabula ruh-roh. With all opinions in the same room, the film undermines any attempt at divining a simple answer like Scooby Doo. Which–to be fair–it doesn’t necessarily have to. But for many watching, there may be something left to be desired when it comes to a definitive stance.
This uneven balance, between showing us the goods and making us think, pulls the film down in ways that make me sad. But that doesn’t mean it’s a total loss. Red Christmas is a solid, goofy and disturbing slasher that’ll have you wary of unannounced visitors during the holidays. And if we’re judging it by the golden horror standard of “does this make me scared about shit in my real life,” well then it’s good enough.
Red Christmas (2017) Directed by Craig Anderson. Written by Craig Anderson. Dee Wallace, Sarah Bishop, Geoff Morrell, Janis McGavin, David Collins, Sam Campbell
3.5 out of 5 Jars of Peanuts