We follow a serial killer and his victims as they all prepare for Christmas in their own ways. This year it doesn’t matter if you have been naughty or nice, Santa is coming to town no matter what, and he knows where you live.
I’ll be honest, I’m super impressed that there are so many people who, when they think Christmas, they think horror. Throughout the years, we’ve been given quite the long list of Christmas-themed horror movies. The often-banned Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas (it still makes me smile that the original Black Christmas and A Christmas Story were both made by the same guy, the late Bob Clark) are two of the classic American slashers ruining the holidays for unsuspecting audiences. More recently, our friends overseas have stepped up the game, bringing us Sint (aka Saint, from the Netherlands), Rare Exports (Finland), and now Christmas Cruelty (aka O’Hellige Jul!, from Norway).
If you are looking for a movie that is brutal and pulls no punches, Christmas Cruelty is for you. This is a movie that has a definite “Holy Sh*t!” moment, and it’s right up front for you, as we see a family bound across their living room, blood everywhere, and then watch as a large man (Tormod Lien) kills a crying baby with a power saw. Yep, this is that kind of movie. Maybe even more disturbing (okay, maybe not more disturbing) is the fact that right afterward, we get lulled into a sense of ease as we watch a group of friends laugh and drink, discussing Christmas myths and making fun of each other. Quite impressive is the dialogue; often times, dialogue can be pretty weak in movies like this, with all the attention going to the gore aspects, but not so here. If not for that baby cut in half, you’d swear this was a comedy. But then we get pulled back into reality, as we see that this man, the same one from the shocking intro, is stalking Eline (Eline Aasheim) and her friends (played by directors Magne Stensvoll and Per-Ingvar Tomren, and their characters sharing their names, respectively), all building up for some good old fashioned holiday blood and gore.
One of the cool things about this movie is that you’re really not sure what might happen. It’s a low budget, independent film, and with few exceptions, the actors are all making their “big screen debut.” So there’s not that one person you just know will survive the impending slaughter. But at the same time, you also get things in here that you don’t get in Hollywood slashers, where everything is often either neatly tied up or purposely left open for the upcoming sequel. Need a complete explanation on the “hows” and “whys” of the killer? Too bad, my friend, not here; this evil Santa exists because he does, and that’s pretty much all you’re going to get, which in my opinion makes it all the more brutal.
And speaking of brutal: the gore in here, albeit mostly coming late in the movie, is intense and awesome! There’s hammer bludgeoning, stabbings, decapitations and severed limbs, chainsaws and knives and lots of blood. Lots! And all in a very sociopathic kind of way, where one minute you’ve got a killer in a Santa costume torturing a bound person, and the next he’s talking sweet to his daughter at home, as if these were behaviors that make perfect sense hand in hand.
If I had any complaints, they’re merely technical ones. About a third of the way in, we cut away from getting to know the three friends and instead watch the killer at work. Not “at work” per se, but in a suit at his office. He’s talking with customers and making notes, but the directors employ a strange quick cut and edit scheme here where we see shots of a random blonde girl walking along a cemetery, then transposed over the man and his clients, and it gets a little confusing for a minute. But like I said, this is a short part, and not really something that will ruin the movie for anyone. It’s just kind of weird.
I definitely look forward to more work by these directors. This was Steinsvoll’s first movie experience of any kind (and he did a lot, acting, directing, writing, and composing music, among other things), while Tomren has only a little more directing experience (a couple of shorts and Banzai Motherf*cker!, all co-directed with Erik Hjelvik). If Christmas Cruelty was any indication of what is still to come from these guys, I think we’ll be in for a treat. There is something special about the talent here, both in the fact that they made such a great movie for so little, but also that they made a movie that, while somewhat conforming to certain horror and slasher tropes, managed to still bring its fair share of originality to an often saturated market.