By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Horror is a shockingly (pun intended) broad genre, with a myriad of interesting sub-genres. Whether it be apocalyptic horror, slashers, zombie films, or vampire flicks, there are a variety of appealing flavors within the horror genre. One of the most unusual and yet strangely compelling subgenres is holiday horror. Juxtaposing the cheerful spirit of the holidays with pure horror movie terror has proven to be a successful combination dating back to 1974’s Black Christmas. Since then, the likes of Christmas Evil, Krampus, Rare Exports, and Silent Night, Deadly Night, amongst others, have made the holiday horror sub-genre something to look out for.
Looking to replicate the successes of prior holiday haunts is Santa Isn’t Real, a new horror film from XYZ Films and director Zac Locke (who previously executive produced the 2018 remake of Black Christmas). Santa Isn’t Real follows a young woman named Nikki (played by Kaya Coleman), who suffers a brutal attack at the hands of a person dressed as Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. One year later, the scars of the past Christmas still haunt Nikki as she and her friends decide to celebrate the holidays in a snow cabin. Of course, things don’t go to plan as the murderous Santa Clause reappears to cause mayhem.
The basic plot of Santa Isn’t Real may sound like a replica of a variety of Christmas slasher films, but there is something decidedly different about this film that sets it apart from others. Unlike Silent Night, Deadly Night and other similar films in which the slasher is a killer dressed as Santa Clause, the slasher in Santa Isn’t Real is Santa Clause himself. There’s more nuance to this plot point, which can only be discussed by venturing into spoiler territory, but, overall, the film is commendable for its twisted approach to depicting Santa as a terrifying figure.
Featuring a cozy atmosphere, with the film almost exclusively set in a snowy and isolated cabin, Santa Isn’t Real has the perfect feel of a Christmas horror movie. Not dissimilar from the original Black Christmas, Santa Isn’t Real makes the most of its winter setting – going all in with a snow storm, Christmas sweaters, and more to make the film feel particularly festive.
This coziness is accompanied by a general sense of dread and discomfort throughout. There’s something unnerving about watching the film, especially as the tension of a lingering murderous Santa is coupled with tension among the friends at the center of the story. In this regard, the film doesn’t do anything particularly novel. But, its ability to feel genuinely creepy is definitely notable.
Far less notable, however, is choppy plotting and some messy writing that will take one out of the film. Santa Isn’t Real is filled to the brim with unusual character decisions and implausibilities, to such an extent that it really dampens the film’s overall effectiveness. Characters repeatedly underreact to undoubtedly scary events that happen, often strangely continuing mundane conversations while obviously knowing something bad is happening nearby. On a number of occasions, there is some unintentional humor to be found in this regard (especially as some of the acting is far from great), but, generally, strange character decisions, motivations, and implausibilities greatly detract from the viewing experience.
All of this culminates in a wild last 15 minutes or so in which Santa Isn’t Real begins to fully embrace its horror roots. Several extremely gnarly kills serve as a prelude to a surprisingly well-executed final twist that caps the film off in largely satisfying fashion. Again, the writing isn’t anything particularly unique and yet the film’s ending still manages to work quite well.
Santa Isn’t Real is the latest film to juxtapose the jovial holiday spirit with the pure terror and suspense of a horror film. While not reaching the heights of other entries in this horror sub-genre (like Black Christmas or Christmas Evil), director Zac Locke’s film manages to work on a number of levels. The film possesses a cozy atmosphere, perfect for a holiday horror film, while also having a palpable creepiness throughout. Unfortunately, inconsistent acting and a pattern of narrative implausibilities and strange character decisions detract and often take one out of the film. On the bright side, this issue elicits quite a bit of unintentional humor before culminating in a violent finale with some great kills and a simple, yet effective twist. If you’re looking for a new holiday haunt this Christmas season, give Santa Isn’t Real a try.
Santa Isn’t Real is available on VOD and Digital Platforms December 8th from XYZ Films. Check out a trailer for the film below.