The Christmas Party

"Good"

The Christmas Party Review


Short films are like Skittles for the mind. Sure they're small, but you can eat a lot of them in no time at all. But take in too many of these insubstantial tidbits and you'll end up bloated, miserable, and malnourished. Decades of repeating this binge-and-barf cycle have left this critic a little cynical about independent shorts - particularly since the advent of the dubiously selective Independent Film Channel - so when Jeremiah Kipp's 19-minute The Christmas Party crossed my desk, I was more than a little reticent about pressing play.

Full disclosure: Kipp is a colleague of mine here at filmcritic.com, as is Christmas Party producer Rachel Gordon. This taken into account, I had even more incentive to pretend to misplace the disc as soon as I saw it. After all, if it sucks, I carry the burden of publicly berating my peers. And while I normally relish that sort of thing, most of the people I insult in my reviews are nearly anonymous actors and directors -- not big-time, powerful movie critics like Kipp and Gordon. But ultimately, good sense (and the promise of a hefty filmcritic.com paycheck) prevailed, and here we all are waiting to see what I have to say about this movie. It's as if the eyes of the world are on me at this very moment. Wow. That's a lot of responsibility. I hope I don't say anything stupid.

Anyway, I pressed play, waiting to see the stock opening title bounce around a poorly framed shot as unfiltered background noise blared through my speakers. This sort of stuff is standard fare in short cinema, and everyone knows critics are talentless oafs, so what more could I expect?

A lot more.

The Christmas Party breaks all the rules of independent shorts. From opening scene to closing credits, the film shines with smooth, rich photography invoking the texture of a New England winter with stark lighting that hardens the faces of the cast and sets an ominous tone. The score, which intimately enwraps the action of each scene, is fresh and moving. And more astonishingly, the cast--especially child actor Austin Labbe -- brings the dialogue to life with a crisp, honest delivery seldom found in films of this genre. All these forces combine to produce a startlingly watchable film. Within minutes, I found myself actually following the story -- just like a real movie.

This is the story of Gabriel (Austin Labbe), a young boy who lives with his grandparents because his mother is an alcoholic. Naturally, Gabriel has some depression issues and while it may be Christmastime outside, inside this kid's head it's Halloween year-round. To cheer him up, his grandparents send him to a Christmas party they find listed in the classified section of their local paper. As it turns out, the creepy couple who've suckered local families into trusting them with their children are spreading more than Christmas cheer in their living room. Today is Gabriel's lucky day: He's going to be saved!

Stephanie Foster is truly riveting as the freakishly zealous Betty, shaking the spirit of Christ into Gabe as they kneel together on the bathroom floor. Tom Reid is bizarre and frightening as Betty's husband, Don, who leads the hapless children through a series of creepily sung Jesus carols. And with a stark stoicism, Pete Barker plays the role of grandpa Bill with a somehow morbid effect -- just imagine your grandfather as Lurch from The Addams Family, only folksier.

All things considered, The Christmas Party is a strong, potent film. But it's not without its share of troubles. Just as too much candy can be poisonous in small animals, the otherwise intriguing soundtrack overpowers some scenes in a manner reminiscent of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, making the dialogue almost inaudible. And though most of the film is beautifully shot, the critical opening scene suffers from harsh, washed-out lighting that snaps the viewer out of the story and into the production.

But The Christmas Party's biggest setback has nothing to do with its production values. Early in the film, as Gabriel mopes in his grandparents' living room, something absolutely unbelievable happens: His grandfather actually decides to drop him off at the home of some whacked-out strangers who placed an ad in the paper. Say what you will about the state of the world today, but this scenario is so hard to swallow that it would take some serious storytelling to get me to buy it even for a few seconds. Unfortunately, this film isn't up to the task and I languished in skeptical detachment for the remainder of the film.

Even with this fairly serious flaw, The Christmas Party is a fun, surprising short worth every one of its 19 minutes. Intelligently acted and bristling with smart imagery, it captures the weird intensity of the evangelist set with a masterful eye. Go for the production values; stay for the Jesus freaks.



The Christmas Party

Facts and Figures

Run time: 86 mins

In Theaters: Friday 6th November 2009

Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

IMDB: 3.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Himself (uncredited), as Himself (uncredited), as Himself (uncredited), Marion Davies as Herself (uncredited), as Himself (uncredited), as Herself (uncredited), as Santa Claus (uncredited), as Himself (uncredited), as Himself (uncredited), as Herself (uncredited), as Herself (uncredited), Polly Moran as Herself (uncredited), Ramon Novarro as Himself (uncredited), as Herself (uncredited), as Herself (uncredited), Jerry Madden as Himself (uncredited)

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.