Directed by Paco Plaza
Written by Luis Berdejo
Starring Maru Valdivielso, Ivana Baquero, Pau Poch, Christian Casas, Roger Babia, & Daniel Casadella
CUENTO DE NAVIDAD or simply THE X-MAS TALE is one of those little gems you don’t hear about, but as soon as you see it, you want to share it with as many people as you possibly can. The closest thing I can compare this Spanish film to is EXPLORERS or GOONIES, where a group of kids are put into a very dire situation and because the adults around them are either negligent or busy, it is up to them to face the challenge. But unlike EXPLORERS or GOONIES, CUENTO DE NAVIDAD is an undeniable horror film. The best aspect of this film is that the children are in danger. CUENTO DE NAVIDAD doesn’t pull any punches. The terror in this one is for real.
A group of kids find a person dressed as Santa Claus at the bottom of a large hole in a forest. They soon find out that this isn’t jolly old St. Nick, but a female bank robber dressed as Santa Claus (played menacingly by Maru Valdivielso). But these kids aren’t really on Santa’s nice list as they try to blackmail the robber into telling them where her stolen money is by keeping her in the deep hole in the cold earth without food or water. One of the kids, Ivana Baquero (who you’ll recognize as the little girl from PAN’S LARYRINTH) feels bad for the robber, but the rest are little shits to her.
There’s a cool irony at play here that they are too old to believe in Santa Claus, the kids do believe in the voodoo zombie rituals that take place on the Saturday afternoon horror shows on TV. But though this is an endearing trait, you sort of find yourself rooting for the bank robber in this one as these kids are clearly not as clean and wholesome as the kids from Speilberg’s films. And this isn’t the anti-hero affinity one feels while watching Freddy or Jason kill off annoying twenty something actors. This is the feeling that these kids need to be punished for acting the way they do. Sure they have some endearing quirks with one kid loving the KARATE KID so much he applies Miagi’s teachings to mostly everything he does, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that they extorted money from, starved, and tortured a woman in a hole for two-thirds of the movie. So when the red coated robber gets out of the hole and goes looking for the kids, there’s a nice conflict at play.
The film only looses steam towards the end as the mysticism from the Saturday afternoon schlockers are employed, which makes for a last act tonal switch. The decision to go this route kind of lessens the impact of this powerful film, but it ends so quickly, CUENTO DE NAVIDAD does not suffer much for it. When I first heard of CUENTO DE NAVIDAD, I wasn’t too excited to see it, but after watching it, I’m kicking myself for not checking it out sooner. It offers some nice moral ironies, has great performances from Maru Valdivielso and Ivana Baquero (who will definitely be a huge star someday), and has a tone of terror with children that one doesn’t see very much anymore.