Friday, December 22, 2017

12 Horrors of Christmas: 'Mercy Christmas' (2017)

There seems to be a recent surge in Christmas-themed horror movies, perhaps because adding some holiday trappings to the typical straight-to-VOD horror production helps it stand out a bit. I saw Ryan Nelson's Mercy Christmas at the Sin City Horror Fest back in October, about a month before its VOD debut, and was pleasantly surprised at its playful sense of humor, solid acting and nasty violence, and the way all those elements worked together. It may not reach a big enough audience to become the next holiday horror favorite, but it's a worthy continuation of the tradition, and a fun movie for horror fans in general.

Director and co-writer Nelson's biggest assets are his actors, especially stars Steven Hubbell and Casey O'Keefe, as an awkward office drone and his gorgeous workplace crush, respectively, both of whom transcend their stereotypical introductions as the movie progresses. Put-upon Michael Briskett (Hubbell) loves Christmas but has no one to spend it with, and his douchebag boss saddles him with tons of extra work over the holidays. The only bright spot is that hot secretary Cindy Robillard (O'Keefe) seems to take pity on him, attending his Christmas party when no one else from the office (or anywhere else) shows up, and even inviting him to spend Christmas with her family, so he won't be alone.

Hubbell and O'Keefe have genuine chemistry as good-natured co-workers, which is why it's especially effective when it turns out that Cindy doesn't actually want to befriend the office misfit; instead she's taking him home to her secretly cannibalistic family to be part of Christmas dinner, and Michael's asshole boss is really her brother. O'Keefe does a great job of keeping Cindy consistent, with the same chipper attitude and eager helpfulness when she's bonding with Michael over Christmas traditions as when she's getting ready cook him up for dinner. And Hubbell brings an impressive amount of inner strength to the goofy Michael, who starts out as an ineffectual Christmas-loving doofus before eventually rallying his fellow captives to escape from the evil Robillard family.

Some of the scenes of squabbling (among the captives and among the Robillards, almost all of whom get character-developing subplots) get repetitive, and the final all-out battle goes on a little too long, eventually highlighting the movie's limited resources. But for the most part Nelson makes strong use of those limited resources, throwing together a sort of sunny suburban Christmas comedy version of the finale of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and finding fun ways to keep the holiday theme at the forefront. It's a promising feature debut and a solid addition to the Christmas horror canon.

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