Four American best friends decide to take the back roads travelling to a wedding in England, on their way a deadly secret forces the girls to be stranded in the woods, where they discover a house occupied by Miss Perkins.
When Michael Briskett meets the perfect woman, his ideal Christmas dream comes true when she invites him to her family's holiday celebration. Dreams shattered, Michael struggles to survive once he realizes HE will be Christmas dinner.
'Once Upon a Time at Christmas' drew me into seeing it, with a cool poster/cover, an slightly intriguing premise and as someone with a general appreciation for horror. That it was low-budget, which from frequent personal experience is rarely a good sign due to that there are so many poor ones out there, made me though apprehensive.
It is sadly however yet another film seen recently, hence some reiteration because the exact same strengths and flaws those films have are present here, that to me was incredibly disappointing considering its potential which it doesn't do anywhere near enough with. 'Once Upon a Time at Christmas' is terrible, with a plethora of problems (huge ones too) and doesn't do enough with its potential, which was hardly small. There is next to nothing to recommend.
Lets start with the positives. The scenery and lighting are atmospheric and spooky. Simon Phillips does his best as Santa and tries to create a creepy presence and mostly somehow is successful.
Unfortunately, the scenery and lighting are not done justice by the rather direct to video schlocky way it's shot and edited, it was very clear that the film was made in a rush with no care or enthusiasm. The bathroom scene especially looks terrible.
Going on further to the negatives, the story does feel paper thin, disjointed and over-stretched and some of it feels vague, under-explained in the last third where the film especially became duller, more predictable, more senseless and less scary. Too many characters are too sketchy and with nowhere near enough to make one want to endear to them. Their annoying and illogical decision making and behaviours frustrates.
Making the film feel bland and forgettable with not enough heart put into it. The effects are ropy at best, the sound quality is obvious and utilised cheaply (being too loud in the build ups and people's reactions) and it's best not mentioning the uniformly lumbering and histrionic acting. The acting for Mrs Claus is a painful example of the latter and many of the victims act inappropriately in the kills.
Dialogue, which is far too exposition-heavy, can be stilted and rambling, with lots of clichés and no depth whatsoever, while the pace goes to a standstill very quickly and drags on forever with very little going on worth caring about and useless padding, never recovering. Found too many the supposedly shocking moments not surprising or scary and the supposedly creepy atmosphere dreary, due to the excessive obviousness, a lot of dumb and vague moments and explanations and the lack of tension and suspense. Would not have minded the lack of originality (the film is extremely derivative and in a dumbed and watered down way) if the story and atmosphere were at least alright in execution, in reality they were both very poorly done.
A lot of 'Once Upon a Time at Christmas' has underdeveloped plot elements and often nonsensical and confusing character motivations, while too many of the things to make you jump or shocked are far from creative or scary and are pretty tame. The ending makes the film finish on an incomplete and confused whimper.
There is not enough threat, and what there is of it tends to be used poorly, it is completely unimaginative and more odd than creepy, completely failing to show any sense of horror or creativity. The kills are neither creative, suspenseful or nail-biting, let down by terrible acting from the victims, characters not worth investing in and no real atmosphere other than unintentional humour. Some badly sagging momentum too. The direction is leaden and like their heart was not in it or ill at ease. Some elements are gratuitous to overused and abused effect, further adding to the cheapness. The music doesn't really fit.
All in all, terrible. 2/10 Bethany Cox
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