By David Dent
Here’s a seasonal movie with a dark heart just in time for the holidays.
It’s Christmas Day in an unspecified corner of Australia – bright sunshine, birds singing, wide open spaces – where Diane and her husband Joe, Americans relocated down under, are hosting a party for their various natural and adopted children.
There’s the usual family bickering – one daughter, Suzy, keen to conceive but unlucky in pregnancy, and with her bible bashing husband in tow, spars with her loose living already knocked up sister Ginny.
These two will go at it hammer and tongs through most of the movie. Then there’s wannabe thespian Jerry (a great role for Downs syndrome actor Gerard Odwyer who gets some quite powerful scenes towards the end of the film) who just wants everybody to get along, and ‘whatevs’ spouting adopted daughter Hope.
Into this uneasy get together a stranger comes. Cletus, bandaged from head to foot and seemingly also with a disability, arrives at the front door seeking help, and inserts himself into the household, who initially take pity on him. But all is not well.
Cletus is a connection with Diane’s dark past, which features a saboteur bombing at an abortion clinic twenty years previously. Realising the link Diane asks Cletus to leave, but he has vengeance on his mind, and before long the family are under siege in their own home, uniting against a deadly foe.
If I didn’t know better I’d think that Craig Anderson’s feature debut was driven by a fundamentally Christian message, but in the end it’s far too twisted and violent for that.
True, it labours (pun very much intended) the abortion/pregnancy theme – Anderson even lists some other ‘abortion issue’ movies you might want to check out in the end credits – and the inclusion of a Downs actor in a film whose storyline equates the disability with moral decisions is almost a step too far.
But despite the unevenness of tone, this is a rather odd but strangely watchable reworking of traditional slasher motifs and soap style drama – it even subverts the traditional Christmas movie by setting it in bright, sunny Australia.
It is in the end Dee Wallace’s film (she co-produced – maybe she put some money into it?) and it’s arguably her finest performance yet, as a woman struggling with the difficult choices of her past and the need to keep her present family safe. It’s also surprisingly gory with moments of humour – in one scene there’s a rather literal depiction of the phrase ‘nose to the grindstone.’
I’m still scratching my head as to what to make of this. And maybe that’s a good thing. Cautious thumbs up but not without its problems.