Toronto After Dark 2015: ‘A Christmas Horror Story’ and ‘Love & Peace’

A Christmas Horror Story (DIR. Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban & Brett Sullivan)


By: Addison Wylie

It’s easy to picture the pitch meetings around the anthology project A Christmas Horror Story.  The movie, after all, is strung together by ideas that probably sounded better on paper than how they look on the big screen.  However, no matter how awesome they first appear to be, A Christmas Horror Story doesn’t know how to assemble them together into a cohesive flick.

Several stories take place on Christmas Eve: Santa preps for his big night, but things take a turn for the worse when an elf dies and infects his workers around him.  A group of intrepid student filmmakers trespass onto private property and get more than they bargained for.  Something goes awry in the woods while a family chops down their Christmas tree, and Krampus (of German folklore) is stalking the naughty.

I was mildly entertained by bits and pieces of A Christmas Horror Story.  George Buza’s portrayal of a gruff Santa Claus is spot-on and Shiny the Elf is hilariously vulgar.  Shiny is played by Patch Town’s Ken Hall, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite Canadian comic actors.  Also, young Orion John is one to look out for.  In the film, he plays a possessed child whose facial expressions convince the audience that John may, in fact, be possessed in real life by a late comedian.

I was also pleased with the film’s visual design – namely the costuming.  It was great to see a terrifying Krampus come to life, along with other scary make-up jobs paying off in haunted environments.  That said, since three different directors worked on A Christmas Horror Story, each set of scenes have radical looks – this may irk movie goers looking for consistency.

The strengths are far and few between, I’m afraid.  And, A Christmas Horror Story ultimately underwhelmed.  All of these interwoven creepshows would work as their own individual short stories – there’s no doubt about that.  There’s just enough material to suspend this entertainment for a limited amount of time.  Unfortunately, this production (directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan) has chosen to play them all at once on the same messy narrative;  giving audiences snippets of each story before awkwardly cutting away once interesting things start happening.  It’s like watching television with a channel surfing kid who is just learning about the buttons on the remote control.

The film’s intention is to give the holiday its Trick ‘r Treat.  However, splitting stories up into their own vignettes with recurring characters making appearances is what gave Trick ‘r Treat appeal.  By taking the alternate time-interval approach, A Christmas Horror Story winds up all over the place;  spinning more plates than necessary.  It sent me into an indifferent, fidgety trance.  Like an anxious child, I was hoping for Christmas morning to finally arrive.


Love & Peace (DIR. Sion Sono)


By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

When it comes to the works of Sion Sono, a new reviewing system may need to be created: instead of reviewing his films in detail, the review must simply read “Sion Sono” if favourable and, in the rare cases, “not Sion Sono” if unfavourable.  That way, the viewers who know the director will know what to expect, as even though no two of his films are similar, they all share that inherent Sion Sono quality.  In that case, the review for this film would read “Sion Sono”.

2015 has been a rather prolific year for Sono, seeing him complete six features – two of which were selected for Toronto After Dark and one which was a TIFF award winner.  In Love & Peace, he tells a deeply convoluted story of love, betrayal and a yearning for return, as told through the relationship between a perennial loser and his flushed magical turtle.

This film must truly be seen to be believed.  There are two intertwined stories: one of a man becoming a rock star, through the help of his turtle, and another of the turtle in the sewers living among other abandoned toys and animals.  It reads like a mixture of equal parts Godzilla, E.T., Finding Nemo, the Persian children’s film The Doll Thief and VH1’s Behind the Music, topped with various cultural elements, blended and splashed with psychedelic drugs.  This is actually the best way I can describe this film.  And, it’s sort of a musical.  The music is catchy, the imagery pops, there’s lots of adorableness throughout, and the madness of it all has been turned up to eleven.  The whole thing is just a marvel of visual culture.  Love & Peace drags a bit (it’s almost two hours), but I honestly can’t think of a single scene that could be cut.

Do yourself a favour and watch this film when it eventually hits theatres or VOD.  I can’t promise that you will like it, but I can promise that you will never forget it.


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Toronto After Dark: @TADFilmFest
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie
Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam

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