Posted on May 8, 2016

Holidays (2016)

Dawn Keetley

2016   |   R  |   USA   | Multiple Directors |   105 min

Holidays, released in April 2016, is a horror anthology featuring eight short films (which I’ll list with directors at the end). Since I’m not a huge fan of anthologies, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one—and that’s in large part due to the strong narrative continuities that bind the individual films together. Collectively, they (1) illuminate the often primitive violence that still lurks beneath our holidays rituals; (2) showcase the power of body horror; and (3) make strikingly clear that a major gender transformation is not happening but has already happened in horror.

(1) Three of the films explicitly take up the rituals surrounding some of our most vaunted holidays, now more often than not papered over with Hallmark cards and polite, well-coiffed brunches in expensive restaurants.

“St Patrick’s Day” begins with the well-known myth that when St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland, he was actually exorcising the pagans—a story loosed from bodies and imagined as allegory. This film turns that around and imagines how the pagans, this time embodied as snakes, might stage a return, manipulating lonely women who long for a child. The protagonist is warned about her pregnancy that this is more than “Rosemary’s Baby,” it’s “Rosemary’s Reptile.”

“Mother’s Day,” the only film directed by a woman (Sarah Adina Smith), takes up the rituals surrounding motherhood—surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth—and it too (like “St. Patrick’s Day”) includes a monstrous birth. While the main character has been banished from the site of modern medicine to that of ancient rites, the film evokes the effects of modern medicine, specifically abortion: “every time you end the life inside of you, it will come back stronger,” warns one character. In the issues it raises around fertility and abortion, “Mother’s Day” is, in my view, one of the most provocative in the anthology.

1. Holidays, Mother's Day

–And “Easter,” which begins with a terrified girl questioning her mother about a man who comes back from the dead and a large rabbit that’s inevitably going to break into her house that night (surprisingly frightening rituals when put in that particular way!), brilliantly offers a horrifying image of what the merging of the two (returned dead man and rabbit) might look like.

(2) Every one of the eight films in Holidays except “Father’s Day” exploits “body horror” in extremely compelling ways. Body horror emphasizes the mutilation and evisceration—the general hacking up and taking apart—of the body. The gore is never gratuitous, though, in Holidays. In fact, I’d single out “Halloween,” and “New Year’s” as films that root their culminating body horror in the fact that our culture itself relentlessly fetishizes certain body parts—not least, of course (women’s) genitals. Both films make it clear that such fetishizing is itself inherently violent, as well as showing how it leads to violence.

2. Holidays Valentines day

(3) Also striking—perhaps most striking—is that almost every one of the eight films features women and girls who enact the violence of the film. The extent of the violence runs the gamut: in some films it’s very direct, as women rip out hearts, engage in (indirect) castration, bludgeon bosses to death, and revel in random, motiveless serial killing (a character type in which women are rarely cast). Indeed, in a scene at the end of “New Year’s,” Lorenza Izzo seems to be reprising Christian’s Bale’s role in American Psycho—and intercut shots of the ball dropping in Times Square ensure you’ll never think of that particular ritual in quite the same way. In other films, the violence is more implicit, more disguised—in a couple of films, for instance, the mundane rivalries between women over men and reproduction are illuminated for the brutality that courses through them.

Violence is so associated with women in Holidays, in fact, that for me it seems a kind of turning point. We can’t any longer speak of women as only the victims in horror. They are, for better or for worse, also the killers.

Finally, just a brief mention of two of the films that don’t engage quite as much with visceral body horror. “Father’s Day” is an uncanny almost surreal meditation on how relationships with fathers are often still more absent, less tangible than relationships with mothers, how they involve mediation (technology) and space. In the film, a woman is following directions on a tape left by her father (whom she thought was dead)—directions that lead her to him, though we’re not sure who he/He actually is.

And “Christmas,” starring Seth Green, features a coveted Christmas present—UVU glasses which show whoever wears them either the truth or what they desperately want to be the truth. The power of the story rests on precisely the inability to know the truth or fictionality of what the wearer sees through the glasses.

3. Holidays Seth Green

I was going to end by singling out what I thought were the best films, but, honestly, every single one of them offered a provocative narrative and had some kind of horrifying turn or arresting image that has stayed with me. I’m not sure I can single any out. They’re all compelling.

Here are the films, in the order they appear, with director:

“Valentine’s Day,” Kevin Kolsch

“St. Patrick’s Day,” Gary Shore

“Easter,” Nicholas McCarthy

“Mother’s Day,” Sarah Adina Smith

“Father’s Day,” Anthony Scott Burns

“Halloween,” Kevin Smith

“Christmas,” Scott Stewart

“New Year’s,” Adam Egypt Mortimer

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