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By Phil Hall | December 24, 2004

“The Christmas Party” is a short and disturbing holiday offering from filmmaker and film critic Jeremiah Kipp. In this film, a young boy named Gabriel lives with his grandparents because his alcoholic mother is unable to properly care for him. To liven the boy’s spirits, the grandparents arrange for him to be dropped off at a children’s Christmas party hosted by a local minister and his wife. At this party, however, the holy duo decide to put the “Christ” back into Christmas and arrange for Gabriel to be “saved.” The boy, who is none too certain just what is going on, agrees to go along with this and is rewarded for his efforts with extra chocolate cake and a pretty paper angel made by a girl at the party. But on the ride home, Gabriel’s grandfather glumly informs the lad that God is in the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny–pleasant fairy tales with no connection to real life. Gabriel, who was riding with the paper angel in his hands, drops it into the darkness of the car floor as the vehicle speeds off in the night.

Okay, anyone expecting a Christmas film laced with sentiment and sweetness will get a cold shock here. Yet “The Christmas Party,” with its enigmatic characters and sense of foreboding (especially when the melodramatic minister’s wife preaches to Gabriel on the bathroom floor), is both creepy and challenging. Insincerity rings throughout the film: the child’s seemingly insincere acceptance of Christianity, his mother’s false claims of devotion while balancing an overfilled wine glass, even the minister’s surprisingly unenthused oration on Jesus’ birth gives the impression of a world where it is easier to play along than take a genuine stand. The grandfather’s seemingly callous declaration on God being a fairy tale should be wildly out of place, given this is a Christmas film, but at the very least it is the one honest statement made in the film.

Handsomely photographed by Jon Miller and beautifully scored by Rob Reddy, “The Christmas Party” is one of the most polished short films of the year. The ensemble cast is excellent, especially the talented young Austin Labbe as Gabriel. And filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp, whose insightful commentaries on current releases for are a joy to read, proves that critics can make great films. And “The Christmas Party” is a great film.

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