Friday, January 23, 2009

A Christmas Tale (2008)

Part of the 6 Films to Keep You Awake set that was released by Lionsgate in late 2008, A Christmas Tale is set in Spain in December of 1985 and tells the tale of five childhood friends that stumble upon a body of a woman dressed in a Santa suit that’s fallen into a deep hole in the forest. After verifying that she is still alive (by pouring soda on her head) two of the kids go get the police while the other three try to haul her out of the hole with some rope. Once at the police station, the kids are ignored by the town’s cop but find a “wanted” notice for the woman in the hole. She is a dangerous criminal named Rebeca ExpĆ³sito who recently stole a bunch of money from a bank. They run back to tell the rest of the gang and together they decide to leave her in the hole until she gives up the hiding place of the money. They resort to starving and torturing her to get her to tell them where the money is. Despite their promise to let her go when they get the money, they decide to keep her in the hole, afraid she might come after them for revenge if they let her out.

Meanwhile, a few of the kids are horror fans and decide to reenact a voodoo ritual on the woman that they saw in a zombie film. Soon after, the kids assume the woman has died but later find she has escaped and they believe her to be a zombie. Undead or not, she is not out for blood against the brats that tortured her.
See, this is why I don’t want kids – they can turn out to be so sadistic! This film takes a supposedly happy-go-lucky, innocent group of kids and makes them the villains. It is so easy for them to torture a human being in the name of greed that you sympathize more with the woman, a violent bank-robber, than with the 12-year-olds. They pelt her with rocks, leave her out in the rain, starve her and taunt her…No wonder she wants to take an ax to them once she escapes!

Yep, this film carries some grim tones, but it isn’t nearly as mean-spirited as say, Eden Lake. Plus, it lightens the tone with early interactions between the Goonie-like gang of characters and the 80′s setting. We get fun references to The Karate Kid, Star Wars, Ghost Busters, that Simon electronic game and even some 80′s music (in Spanish!). Then there are a bunch of horror films you can see in the background in a kid’s room (on VHS!), including Tombs of the Blind Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Horror Express and more! So really, despite all their viciousness, this group of kids is pretty likable. Their carefree days of hanging out in their clubhouse, watching horror movies, playing in the woods and riding their bikes come in sharp contrast to the horror they are capable of.

The child actors in the film do a terrific job in A Christmas Tale and never once did I doubt their believability. They all acted and behaved like any 12-year-olds would and even fought amongst themselves as their problems escalated. Their interactions with each other felt very real, like they really were friends in real life. Also, the victim was played very well by Maru Valdivielso. Even though she is a criminal, she still made you feel sorry for her and by the end you did want her to seek revenge on the kids.

Unfortunately, all of the violence we see on-screen is directed at the Valdivielso’s character. She gets pretty trashed in this film and I thought the makeup department did a pretty great job showing her deterioration. The gore is pretty nil except for a impalement, which doesn’t end up being that gory anyway.

The film is beautifully shot by director Paco Plaza (who helped co-direct REC with Jaume Balaguero). Plaza really knows how to capture the feeling of being a kid. The final chase through the empty amusement park is very thrilling and really gives the film some nice tension that earlier scenes lack.

The film does drag on a bit too long in the end and while I appreciated the fun and shocking “second” finale, it felt a little tacked on. Nonetheless, A Christmas Tale was a delight to watch and comes highly recommended!

Available from Amazon!

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