This holiday-themed Canadian anthology takes the unusual approach of interlacing four stories (a la Short Cuts) rather than keeping them separate. This means audiences have to follow four suspense situations at the same time, while puzzling over several mysteries (not least of which is how the action at the North Pole connects with what’s going on in the archetypal small town of Bailey Downs), though three directors (Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan) and four credited writers (James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier) manage to come up with something ultimately coherent.
In a genial, committed turn, William Shatner gets progressively sloshed as DJ Dan, who spins Christmas tunes and drops dark hints about past and present trouble in Bailey Downs – a community which has featured in the Ginger Snaps films and Orphan Black, from the same Canadian stable. A trio of teenage would-be documentarians break into school to shoot footage for a project about a couple of kids who were found gruesomely killed in Satanic-seeming circumstances last Christmas Eve … a cop and his wife poach a Christmas tree from a snowbound estate, and their young son seems to undergo a drastic mood change when fetched out of a hollow tree in which he was hiding … desperate middle-class hustler Taylor Bauer (Jeff Clarke) and his pretty rotten family entreat financial aid from a stern old auntie and find themselves stalked by the anti-Santa, the horned vengeance demon Krampus (Rob Archer) … and, at the North Pole, Santa (George Buza) has to take extreme measures when his elves turn into a pack of killer zombies. The tone of the episodes shifts from comic-gruesome to spooky-serious, but there are clever crossovers – the cop is trying to make up to his family after their last Christmas was ruined because he had to spend timeon the school slayings, the filmmakers get into the school thanks to keys stolen by Bauer’s klepto daughter (Amy Forsyth) and DJ Dan keeps hinting that there’s something up at the mall involving the station’s Christmas-hating weatherman. The girl-ghost episode is the thinnest, like a digest of a dozen found footage or avenging schoolgirl spirit films – with only a vague Christmas connection – but the other stories are all solid, with amusingly barbed dialogue (and due credit for featuring a middle-class black family in an episode that doesn’t hinge on race).
Embedded in the film are some decent chills, like the first glimpse of the changeling’s true face in the mirror, and some nicely black Christmas morality as Krampus punishes the wicked (‘Dylan wasn’t an innocent – what do you think happened to our pets?’) or goes one-on-one with an enraged, battle-scarred tough guy Santa just before a hilarious yet tragic reveal of what’s really up in town. The snowy setting and use of ironic Christmas music adds a little flavour to the eggnog – this really does do for Christmas what Trick ‘r’ Treat did for Hallowe’en. Prolific horror star Julian Richings – you know the face – has a significant bit as a gaunt, sinister servant.