J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Holidays

Suicides always increase around holidays. Maybe you subscribe to religious proscriptions against self-destruction and are not suffering from depression. Eight up-and-coming genre directors and Kevin Smith will still give you reasons to fear them in the calendar-themed horror anthology Holidays (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

We will get to New Year’s on December 31st, so that leaves Valentine’s Day as the logical starting point for Starry Eyes co-helmers Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer’s contribution. A hunky but medically ailing gym teacher takes a liking to the shy Maxine, but the rest of the girls bully her relentlessly, especially the school’s queen bee. Don’t you wonder what’s in store for her?

Next, Gary Shore pops us over to Ireland for the serpent-themed St. Patrick’s Day. There will be snakes (St. Pat knew them well) and a terrifically sinister little redheaded cherub named Grainne, who will rock her teacher’s world. Incorporating less obvious Celtic lore, Shore blends scares with dark humor for one of Holidays’ best segments.

The look of Nicholas (The Pact I, but not II) McCarthy’s Easter is even more impressive, but it is too sketchy, feeling like a proof-of-concept scene that needs a full film developed around it. However, Sarah Adina Smith (who fully embraces genre this time around, after playing it coy in The Midnight Swim) probably upends the most expectations with Mother’s Day. The unnaturally fertile Kate seeks holistic help at a New Age retreat, but encounters the dark side of paganism instead.

Yet without question, the film’s strongest day is Anthony Scott Burns’ Father’s Day. Frankly, it is a holiday Carol never really participated in, since her father absconded while she was still quite young—except maybe he didn’t. When he has a mysterious Walkman delivered to her, she will follow his recorded instructions faithfully, hoping it will lead her to some answers. In terms of its steadily building suspense and transfixing vibe, “Father’s Day” is arguably a mini-masterwork. Without question, Burns is the battery’s least established filmmaker, but his work here ought to quickly land him a feature deal.

Smith’s Halloween and Scott Stewart’s Christmas are conceived as horror comedies, but fall short of both laughs and scares. The former’s vengeful webcam girls who turn on their captor represent especially problematic comedy material, whereas the frazzled father who resorts to murder in order to secure the season’s most coveted gift (a VR headset) feels like modernized E.C. Comics story, except that probably makes it sound better than it is. Adam Egypt Mortimer’s New Year’s also feels like an updated O.Henry story, but the Some Kind of Hate filmmaker’s execution (so to speak) is much stronger. In fellow contributors Kölsch & Widmyer’s script, a serial killer is eagerly anticipating his New Year’s kiss, but there is a big twist in store for him. It is easily guessable, but it still works rather well as a tasty dark irony.

Like just about every anthology film, the constituent parts of Holidays form an uneven whole, but there is more than enough to keep genre fans engaged and satisfied. In fact, it will be particularly welcome to late night patrons, considering how many nongenre films have been mistakenly programmed in this year’s midnight section. Recommended as a creepy and clever horror collection (more often than not), Holidays screens again next Friday (4/22) and Saturday (4/23)—and is already available on VOD platforms.

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