#258 -- 13 Days of Creepmas Day 12: The Christmas Tale [Cuento de Navidad] (2005)
Rating: 3 / 5
Director: Paco Plaza
Today brings us yet another foreign film, this time in Spanish. I found in on Fearnet's VOD, and I wasn't really sure what to expect from it. The synopsis it gave was that a couple of kids find a woman dressed as Santa out in the woods, and she turns out to be a robber. My first thought was, "that doesn't sound like a horror movie at all," but I trusted Fearnet, so I watched it. In reality, the majority of the movie really isn't horror. It doesn't start to even remotely resemble a horror movie until the very end.
So there's this group of friends: there's the sweet little girl, the asshole leader, the nerd (who happens to be obsessed with The Karate Kid, and wants to be just like Daniel), the sweet boy, and maybe some others that I can't remember. The most memorable are Moni (the sweet girl, played by Ivana Baquero from Pan's Labyrinth), and Tito, since they are the most relatable of the bunch. Moni is indeed a sweet little girl who tries to help out the prisoner as much as she can; and Tito is the comedic relief with his Karate Kid obsession and all. Anyways, they find this lady in a hole out in the woods. She's dressed as Santa, and she tells them a sob story about how she was trying to surprise her nephews for Christmas, took a detour through the woods, and fell in a hole. Two of the kids left to find the police, while the rest remained behind and try to help her out of the hole. While the two were at the police station, they saw a flyer that told them the lady was a criminal, so they returned without notifying anyone. They then decided to keep the woman prisoner, wait to see if there would be a reward, and then maybe turn her in later. But by then they knew that she had stolen two million dollars, and they wanted some of that cash. So they refused to bring her any food or supplies until she revealed the location of the money.
I must note that a couple of the kids were very into some movie called Zombie Invasion. Once, they decided to try out the "zombie ritual" they saw in the movie, to see if they could turn their prisoner into one of the living dead. So, when they returned to let her out of the whole (after making sure all the money was there), she was dead. Or at least, somewhat. She escaped from the hole, and went chasing after the kids with an axe. The final chase scenes took place in an amusement park of some sort, which made it quite a sight to see: this bloody, messed up woman chasing a bunch
of kids with an axe through a park. The kids knew from the movie that the only way to kill a zombie was to stab it through the eye, so they came up with several different plans on how to do this. Only one of them worked, of course, and it was pretty grisly. There were a couple of other gnarly scenes as well (most notably when the lady was trying to escape and her fingernail was ripped from her hand). In the end, the film-makers played a naughty trick on us viewers with a twist that I saw coming. But since I saw it coming, I thought it was too obvious, and I was sure they wouldn't go there. So when they did go there, I was equally shocked because I'd expected to not expect it. If that makes any sense whatsoever.
I think all of the kids did a wonderful job in their roles. They played the roles of friends turning on each other very well, and they were very strong characters. It was a story of kids getting caught up in a bad situation that was mainly caused by their vivid imaginations. It also showed how children can be just as monstrous as adults, in the way that they kept her prisoner and practically tortured her until they got what they wanted. I think this was the most disturbing part. The "leader" of the group was the most disturbing, as he didn't seem to care whether the woman lived or died, and no child should ever show that sort of hatred.
It was a Stand By Me type of horror movie, in that it depicts children getting into a situation that children should never be in. In it, too, the children find smart ways to get out of the sticky situation without any help from adults.
The part of Rebecca, the robber, was played equally well. She was part dangerous and frightening, and part pitiable and sad. I wasn't sure if I should feel bad for her, or hate her and wish for the kids to kill her. In the end, I rooted for the kids because, after all, they're only children and I could never wish them dead. The final scenes were quite suspenseful, because as a viewer, I hoped desperately that all of the children (except maybe the leader, because he was a bit of an asshole) made it out unscathed.
The effects, though quite limited as there were no murders, were done well. The fingernail bit was absolutely cringe-worthy, and the make-up they put on Rebecca was great. She was played by Maru Valdivelso, who is quite a pretty lady. But Rebecca was horrid: ugly and scary, and definitely not someone you'd want to come across in a dark alley.
The movie was definitely slow. While they found Rebecca early on, it mostly focused on their interactions with her while she was in the hole. It was disturbing to see the way the children treated her, but there really was nothing else going on for a while. It wasn't until the last thirty minutes or so, when the chase scenes began, that it started to pick up and get really interesting. Yes, that's a problem. But the scenes leading up to that part were really good, and they succeeded and developing the kids' characters in ways that made me care about them. I do wish the action would have started sooner, but it only hurt my rating a little bit.
Everyone knows I'm a gore whore, so I'd like to say that I wish there was more blood to make it even more disturbing. But I'm kind of torn. Since the movie focused almost entirely on children (Rebecca and one police officer were the only two adults ever present), it's kind of hard to wish for more gore. Though I do think it would be easier to classify this as "horror" if at least one of the kids had been killed. Because, let's face it, kids dying is the most horrifying and terrible thing in the world.
I've never really watched Christmas themed horror movies up until this year's Creepmas. I've watched three foreign ones so far. I never realized that Christmas is pretty much a universal holiday. Everyone seems to celebrate it, everyone knows Santa, and everyone has their own little stories to tell about him. Sure, some are a little different, but he's always present, it seems. Just an interesting thing I've noticed that I honestly should have noticed sooner, probably.
Overall, I think The Christmas Tale was an interesting movie with good characters and a unique story to tell.