Listen, I’m not opposed to high-concept horror movies with wacky premises making a grab for your eyeballs via some intriguing box art, sex appeal and the possibility of a c-list celebrity cameo. I’m not. In a previous life I used to help make movies just like that. More points to the endeavor if it’s holiday themed! Horror is fun. The holidays are fun. They’re two great tastes that taste great together. I’m here for your Gingerdead Man, your Silent Night, Deadly Night and your Jack Frost (Horror Snowman version, not Keaton-Snowman). Thus, when the opportunity arose for me to review Elves (dir. Jamaal Buden) I jumped right in and happily plopped it onto my computer as I wrapped presents. As I sit writing this review on the morning of Christmas Eve I am listening to holiday music and sipping eggnog spiked coffee. I tell you this to ensure you that I am in full-on holiday-mode. I am so possessed by the holiday spirit it’s got me spewing pea soup and invective at my loved ones.
So, is Elves the blood-soaked Christmas movie that I and those like me might want to throw into the holiday rotation for when they’re feeling spicy at Christmastime?
Elves fails its audience in a few key ways: 1) It’s not very well produced. 2) The writing is pretty bad. 3) The acting is mostly worse. 4) The kills! They’re boring! 5) It’s derivative af. (Characters make direct references to It Follows and Truth or Dare, obvious inspirations that Elves woefully fails to live up to…) And finally: 6) The Christmas horror movie sub-genre is surprisingly vast and this film does little to distinguish itself from the pack with a unique premise or story, rather it throws several Christmas-tinged premises at the wall and none of them stick.
Elves opens with two young boys hunting around for their presents on the night before Christmas, one of those presents turns out to be a haunted elf doll that possesses one of the boys and murders the other by convincing him to climb into an oven. This scene puts two problems with the film on blast right away, one is that while the premise of the scene is horrifying on its face it’s filmed and acted in such a way that not only removes the terror and tension but makes it both boring and a little laughable. How do you make a kid dying in an oven kinda goofy? Watch Elves and you’ll get that masterclass. The second problem is that instead of building the film around (what should have been) a highly disturbing opening scene, the film, as far as I can tell, never makes references to these characters or this event ever again.
The film then jumps to a group of friends having a little Christmas gathering in an abandoned warehouse like you do (because reasons?) where I think (?) they are celebrating the events of the previous film. I forgot to mention that Elves is ostensibly the sequel to the film The Elf, sharing the same producing team and some actors (and I assume characters). I have not had the pleasure of watching the original film (but I will tell you that a gander at the trailer and a quick skim of The Elf makes me think that that movie might be closer to the holiday horror flick I’m after…alas…back to Elves) One of the friends pulls out a chest containing the same creep-tastic elf doll from the first scene except now there’s a ‘naughty list’ accompanying it. She gets all of the friends to write their names on the naughty list and also to confess their deepest, darkest secrets, which all of the friends immediately agree to (again because reasons?). But there’s a twist! Now that their names are on the naughty list and the elf knows their dark secret, they have to do whatever the elf says or else they die! She then leaves them to their fate, admitting that her deep dark secret was that she hated her friends and didn’t think any of them deserved to live. (We assume that the elf doll put her up to this, but her motives are not addressed to my satisfaction, nor is it particularly important to the proceedings.)
What follows then, predictably, is that our group of ‘friends’ are systematically bumped off by evil forces beyond their understanding or control. Notice that I am being vague here for a few reasons. First off, I haven’t mentioned any character names because they really don’t matter. None of the characters are particularly memorable and all but a couple of the performances fail to raise beyond the level of ‘Yes, I could see this person having had a walk-on role as ‘Jock #3’ or ‘Disgruntled Coffee Shop Patron’ on some mid-2000’s WB show. They’re here to die and die they do. Initially, the elf will appear to one of the characters, sit there and whisper to them in a voice that only they can hear telling them to do something awful. They either do it or they don’t and then they pull the digitized evil smiley joker face from Truth or Dare and are murdered. That’s the sequence of events. There don’t seem to be any *rules* to this game, even though they are frequently mentioned. Character introduced. Death. Next Scene.
After a few deaths another evil spirit joins the fray, there is another possessed elf doll that takes control of a young pink haired woman during a ritual that she and her friends are performing. She murders her friends and then goes on a killing spree, first slaughtering a support group of people who don’t particularly like Christmas (also again because reasons?) and then eventually finding her way to stalking the remaining core group of friends.
A final challenger approaches in the form of the Holiday Reaper, a demon elf-masked killer in the classic slasher vein. (The Holiday Reaper is bound to become a beloved character and should by all rights become their own holiday horror franchise – If I may digress further – I was describing the plot of this movie to my wife and accidentally referred to the killer as the ‘Christmas Reaper’ and then followed up with: ‘I mean Holiday Reaper…Christmas Reaper would be ridiculous’…anyway…) The Holiday Reaper begins their own campaign of death on what’s left of our group, informing them that they are now part of a ‘Wild Hunt’ or rather, a murder competition between all of the evil Christmas entities. And if it seems like the Holiday Reaper could have been the entire premise of its own movie…
By now you’re probably thinking: ‘All of this sounds quite zany and over the top, it seems to have some holiday ties, are you sure this isn’t the Christmas Horror-thon I’m looking for?’ Let me reiterate that it is not. If you haven’t picked up on this, the story jumps around to an infuriating degree and breaks its own watered down supernatural rules at every turn. The production values are distractingly low, which I could forgive if the writing wasn’t so thin. Other than a couple of potentially fun but poorly filmed Christmas themed deaths (a character bludgeoned to death with a Christmas tree was a nice touch if a little bizarre.) all of the other deaths in this move are not particularly interesting or inventive. In short, Elves is a mixed toy bag of wasted potential. I wanted to enjoy it but it was too haphazard and boring in parts to really get into.
If it’s not clear I would not recommend this film to you. If you are in the mood for a low budg Christmas bloodbath, I’d probably recommend you spend your time with pretty much anything else. Perhaps even The Elf, a film which I again stress to you that I have not seen.
I hope this review has helped you in your hunt for the perfect holiday gore-fest, dear reader. All the best to you and your family (who you should really go back to attempting awkward conversation with instead of reading this on your phone…) Merry Whatever You Celebrate and here’s to more middling to good movies in the new year!
Elves is currently available on VOD streaming services.