When Michael Briskett meets the perfect woman, his ideal Christmas dream comes true when she invites him to her family's holiday celebration. Dreams shattered, Michael struggles to survive once he realizes HE will be Christmas dinner.
November 28th, 2017
Beth Levy Nelson
Gwen Van Dam
There’s a long (if not always perfect) history of Christmas-themed horror films. You’ve got Bob Clark’s classic Black Christmas, the long-running Silent Night, Deadly Night series and the recent Krampus – among dozens of other.
Well hold onto your Santa hats, ‘cause there’s a new addition to the Christmas horror film pantheon – and it’ll surely end up on the nice (not the naughty) list.
Mercy Christmas is a new horror/comedy from writer Beth Levy Nelson and writer/director Ryan Nelson. And the film enjoyed (‘tis the season!) it’s Hollywood premiere at the 17th Annual Shriekfest Film Festival.
Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell) is a lonely working schlub – abused by his nasty boss Mr. Andy Robillard (Cole Gleason). It’s the day before Christmas Eve, and Michael has given out invites to pretty much the whole office – for a festive little party at his place. No one is coming, and when Mr. Robillard piles on a huge project to be completed before the end of Christmas day, Michael has no choice but to accept. Enter the lovely Cindy (Casey O’Keefe) – dropping off the folders with Michael’s workload – and Michael is smitten. She actually shows up to Michael’s party (she’s the only one) and an immediate connection is made. So when she invites Michael to her family Christmas gathering, Michael’s long-brewing dreams of a perfect Christmas could likely come true. Thing is – when Michael realizes what’s on the holiday menu – this nostalgic, Norman Rockwell celebration – will turn from a dream, into a nightmare.
At the heart of the film is the lead performance from Steven Hubbell. The character truly enjoys a big journey (i.e. well-written character arc) and so that means Hubbell gets to hit every emotion. We get awkwardness, desperation, pain, innocent love and cheer-inducing triumph. And Hubbell nails every moment. While the character is written to have these nuances, it wouldn’t necessarily work without a strong actor at the helm. I lost count at the number of “awww’s” which escaped my lips as an innocent Michael attempts to connect with this “adopted” family and all of the awkward actions and inactions the character takes.
As Cindy – O’Keefe is adorable. The lovely chemistry she has with Hubbell simply crackles. The entire party sequence at Michael’s home is endearing and so when the story rolls on and the reveals happen – you’ll actually feel extra sad for Michael. And the promise of a continued connection between these two is flirted with later in the film (the placement of the fork at the holiday table). As much as I liked this moment, it was not particularly necessary, based on the events of the rest of the film (it never comes to fruition). O’Keefe brings to life that “she’s so beautiful, but she doesn’t know it” character we’ve seen in so many films, but is no less perfectly cast. And she gets the majority of the script’s double-entendres – all of which she delivers with straight-faced gusto – harder to pull off than you may think.
The devastatingly handsome Cole Gleason plays Mr. Robillard as the most pompous ass you’ve ever seen (as in any other douch-y boss roles from the past 40 years) – but despite the character’s one-notedness – Gleason is wonderfully fun to watch. His furrowing brow, his constant glares and his handiness with Christmas lights – will make you squeal with ghoulish delight. The character’s a broad stereotype for sure, but that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it any less – and that’s a credit to Gleason.
The film’s tone is perfectly situated in that rarely-achieved but always desirable – nasty, gory horror and hysterical, pitch-perfect (and wonderfully delivered) over-the-top comedy.
The easy go-to for the best horror/comedy example is Shaun of the Dead. And like that Edgar Wright new classic – Mercy Christmas also has surprising character sympathy and well-done emotion.
As Michael waits in the basement of this crazy family’s home – for his potential painful fate – he bonds with one of his fellow prisoners, Katherine (beautifully played by Whitney Nielsen). There’s a seemingly throwaway line of dialogue early on in the film – and it comes back into play in this sequence. And it was so nicely done (in the writing and the actors’ performances) – that yes – this jaded old critic got choked up. In a universe of gore, wackiness and rampant double entendres – it’s this slowed-down moment of genuine human connection – which will last the longest in audience memories. And I’ll simply say to that – “YES!”
With how crazy and goofy this film is – it was a bit of a shock to see something so deep, so genuine and so endearing. And it doesn’t come off as schmaltzy or out-of-place. The fact that the script and the filmmakers can so deftly move between all of these extremes – proves that they know what they are doing.
It’s interesting, there are some ridiculous character choices (some of which were called out by hoots and hollers in the audience at this screening) which were just not realistic. But you can’t put the same pressure on a film with a whack-job universe like this. It may seem dumb for certain character choices, but in a horror film, and in this horror film specifically – it’s just gotta happen!
The gore is all quite well done. And there are plenty of blows to the head and slicing which we don’t quite see – so you have to wonder if that was an artistic choice, or if the filmmakers were saving some cash. The reason I ask, is that there are plenty of gory, violent acts which are shown in gross (wonderful!) detail – so the back and forth and choices about what to show and what not to show – makes you wonder. The easy gore highlight? The mince-meat scene. Delicious… ahem.
With a strong ensemble cast – headed by a brilliant and nuanced performance from Steven Hubbell, wonderfully over-the-top, “punny” dialogue and a “raise your hands up and cheer” climax – Mercy Christmas can’t help but make all of its various tones gel and work together.
So throw up some tinsel, put the Christmas cookies in the oven and celebrate by singing the film’s praises, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: A new holiday horror classic – and it’s called Mercy Christmas!”
On IMDb, the film shows a forthcoming theatrical release on November 28th, 2017. So check local listings and stay posted for this holiday horror gem!