CHRISTMAS PRESENCE (2018)
aka WHY HIDE?
Directed by James Edward Cook
Written by James Edward Cook, Karen Taylor
Starring Charlotte Atkinson, Elsie Bennett, Lorna Brown, Mark Chatterton, Orla Cottingham, William Holstead, Danny Webb
I finally got around to watching CHRISTMAS PRESENCE and it turned out to be a mixed bag. While the narrative is uneven and all over the place in terms of that kind of horror this film wants to be, the overall package of CHRISTMAS PRESENCE isn’t disappointing. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas in the UK, a day the servants and lower classes would be able to celebrate the holiday, after having to work for the lords and lassies on Christmas. They would even be given boxes and trinkets to give to their loved ones, hence the name. I didn’t know this. I looked it up and I think somewhere in this film, they should have mentioned that for those of us who are not familiar with the holiday. It might have made this film better if they did and gave a deeper meaning to the end, rather than prompting me to look it up.
CHRSITMAS PRESENCE is a weird little holiday horror film about a group of six well to do and eccentric friends who decide to all meet for Christmas in an old manor in the countryside. The group and their significant others gather to eat, drink, argue, reminisce, and battle demons of the past (figuratively and literally). Our star is McKenzie (Charlotte Atkinson) who lost her twin sister when they were ten in the very woods they are revisiting and has deep emotional baggage to unload. But something other than bleak memories are looming over the group. A dark and smoggy force lingers in the woods and is about to descend upon our very diverse group of well-to-do’s.
As a little shocker, CHRISTMAS PRESENCE delivers. There are some decent death scenes. Upper level effects combining CG with the practical. The creature itself, which appears in different forms and prays on each of the characters’ fears is a decent premise, but as with the latter A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, these fears are boiled down to basics with each person reflecting one specific fear. It’s just a little to one-dimensional, especially since we get to know these characters pretty well in the first thirty minutes.
The cast is talented, though some of them are stereotypical in the way they feel more like representatives of a specific group of people than real people. We have the gay man who is outgoing and into fashion. The interracial couple who don’t get along (the black female happens to be into spiritualism, while the white man lusts for another woman). The lesbian couple with one representing the lipstick lesbian stereotype while her butch partner is gruff and into doing the man stuff like gathering wood and shooting guns. And of course, McKenzie, who is troubled, haunted, and frail—the typical final girl. By grouping these people together and giving each a group to represent, this film ends up making them all so uncomfortably stereotypical and unlikable. Gathering this group together leads to much arguing during the getting to know you part of the film, making one wonder why they hang around each other in the first place…especially on Christmas.
I think CHRISTMAS PRESENCE is supposed to be some kind of commentary about the vapidity of the upper crust. The last few moments certainly suggests that. But this theme is not really pushed until the very end and happens rather out of the blue-ly. It feels as if maybe the director realized he had a group of unlikable people on his hands and decided at the last minute to make a statement about it. Either way, the ending is the weakest part of this film by far. The ending, I think, wants to be a shocker, but it just turned out to be a head-scratcher for me.
Tonally, the film is all over the place. It has comically obtuse characters like Orla Cottingham and William Holstead reacting like this is an episode of FAWLTY TOWERS working off of people in real peril. The final half hour is gripping with fun action and special effects, but then the film chooses to end with a wink to the viewer. I really dug moments all the way through, but just when I got into it, the film did something to lose me. Just a weird little package, CHRISTMAS PRESENCE is. Much like opening a Christmas present, once this one is over with, I felt like setting it aside and checking out another film in hopes of something a little better.