Dismembering Christmas (Review)

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DISMEMBERING CHRISTMAS

THE SETUP

“Dismembering Christmas” is the latest Horror/Slasher from Slasher Studios, the team that brought us the 80’s inspired slasher “Don’t Go To The Reunion” see review * https://adamthemoviegod.com/dont-go-to-the-reunion-review/. About a year or so ago, these guys started an online fundraising campaign for this latest venture of theirs and it was quite the success. I was one of many that originally backed the film and I have to say it’s great to see that it’s finally being released this October. As part of a rewards perk I’m being given a Blu Ray copy of the film, but seeing as it’s not ready just yet this review is based on the online screener sent to me by Producer and Co-Writer, Kevin Sommerfield. Dismembering Christmas is about a group of high school friends some of whom are even siblings, who are heading out to a Vacation lake house to celebrate Christmas. Shortly after their arrival, they’re warned by a local to stay away because supposedly a vicious murder had taken place in the cabin several years earlier. They soon discover someone is out for revenge as the body count continues to rise. The film is Director, Austin Bosley’s first full length feature and it stars Baker Chase Powell, Nina Kova, Johnathon Krautkramer, Leah Wiseman, Danielle Doetsch, Shannon McInnis, Jennifer Lenius, Marla Van Lanen, Scott Seagren and Austin Bosley.

THE GOOD

Right off the bat, a catchy title like Dismembering Christmas has to peak your curiosity especially if you’re a fan of DIY, low-budget film-making. Most fans of the genre are always down for a Christmas themed entry into the genre. Over the years we’ve seen the likes of the “Silent Night Deadly Night” series, the two “Jack Frost” films and of course an oldie but a Goldie in “Black Christmas”. Dismembering Christmas’s advantage is that it keeps everything simple, it’s a one location, small cast simple setup type of deal, and that’s all most of us want to see. The three or four different posters floating around are all impressive and the cabin most of the film takes place in is gorgeous. Some of the holiday theme music was cool, and although the piano pieces were a little out place in their respective scenes, they still sounded nice. I loved the subtle use of bells and chimes that build throughout a few of the more climactic scenes. It aided in accompanying the few small stock sound effects that were used. Majority of the transition between scenes was smooth and the editing was clipped in all the correct places. The quality of light and the crew’s ability to shoot said light was the other triumph on the technical front. All the internal shots are gentle but bright enough that we can see anything important, and the external light is shown using gleams from outside the frame while still maintaining sufficient darkness for the scenes at night.

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The camera work and its effective panning is the technical aspect that highlights the production value of Dismembering Christmas. Bosley has worked on some short films and it’s clear that so far he’s learning things the correct way. From the opening frames that roll in at ground level and see someone unpacking presents to put under the tree, to the carefully edited vertical shots seconds later looking over a kitchen table, it’s all very crisp and precise. Austin manages to avoid the inevitable shaky cam moments that often plague micro-budget films. Instead he chooses to tone things back a notch or two by not framing the actors/actresses faces so closely. If my memory serves me correctly, there weren’t a lot of tracking (dolly) shots in Don’t Go To The Reunion, so it was nice to see more of that style implemented here. There was one sequence in particular that involved Lauren (played by McInnis), as she’s running away from the masked killer, where the camera tracks from behind, through the snow, up the stairs and around the corner all in one incredibly well executed take. With only an estimated budget of $16,000, you won’t find a better sequence in the Horror genre than that one.

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The standard of writing from Kevin Sommerfield and Steve Goltz, who also worked on Don’t Go To The Reunion, has improved a considerable amount with this second outing. The profanity is far less frequent and the dynamic of the groups dialogue flows a lot better. The cast and their chemistry seemed far more natural than of those who worked on DGTTR, I believe Marla and Jonathon were the only two from this film that worked on the aforementioned. The breakdown of the story goes as follows. Mark Turner (played by Powell) and his girlfriend Katie (played by the gorgeous Danielle Doetsch), are using Mark’s Dad’s cabin to play host to a bunch of friends for Xmas. The group consists of Brother and Sister, Emma and Justin (played by lovely Leah Wiseman and the returning Johnathon Krautkramer) couple Lauren and Travis (McInnis and Bosley), as well as Justin’s lifelong friend Sam (the alluring Nina Kova) and Katie’s friend Claire (played by Jennifer Lenius, one of the most experienced of the cast). Most of the conversations throughout the film revolve around the relationship dynamics of the pairings, and how the “friends” fit in, or don’t as the case may be. When you combine some of the character revelations with a tale of murder, told to the group by a local named Frank Fuller (Seagren), the short running time passes quite quickly. The second half of the film picks up in intensity as we find out who is committing the murders and why (sort of).

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Taking into account most of the cast are relatively inexperienced, this group does a pretty solid job. Baker and Jonathon have their moments in a couple of scenes, as does Danielle, whose playing the self-absorbed bitchy girl of the group. It’s really the lovely duo of Leah Wiseman and Nina Kova that grab your attention though. Not only do they both look beautiful, they deliver the two most consistent and believable performances of the group. I realized around the half way point that I’d seen Leah in “Dorchesters Revenge” or “Dollface” as it goes by now *see review https://adamthemoviegod.com/dorchesters-revenge-the-return-of-crinoline-head-review/. Dorchesters was another decent low-budget, indie slasher flick so it’s nice to see Leah getting another role in the genre. I liked her dialogue and the line delivery, the character was very much like your everyday girl making her easy to root for. Nina Kova on the other hand, is a fresh face. Regardless of her only having acted in a handful of short films, I can tell you that she’s already beginning to showcase her talent. Her Dawson and Joey (Dawson’s Creek reference there for those of you who maybe slept through the 90’s haha), will they won’t they seesaw with Justin worked nicely, and really displayed the best side of her character Sam.

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Lastly, you probably want to know about the Action sequences and effects right? I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it, but I can safely say it delivers on my number one rule of always including the early kill to get the audience engaged. Two of the deaths were pretty inventive and nicely established. One involving a decoration and the other a popular snow item. The finale was a good payoff and it’s where most of the red stuff flows, you’ll be happy to know that everything was manufactured using practical effects too. If you watch the film that much should be clear, especially for fans of the genre but if not, keep a look out for a glimpse of the tubing that’s used to pump the blood. Ordinarily I would take issue with seeing something like that in the frame and say it’s lazy, however a couple of goofs here and there are to be expected when you’re working on such a small budget and limited time, I found it amusing all the same.

THE BAD

You’ll notice throughout my reviews I place a lot of emphasis on audio levels. Now I didn’t discuss them in this film, because I watched it on my computer and my speakers already have audio issues. Taking that into account I did notice there were a few inconsistencies, which often depended on how closely the actors were framed but for the most part, everything was fairly loud and clear. The Blu Ray will allow me to make a more informed judgement of that facet. A handful of external shots in the snow were problematic due to the sun being in the worst spot. I don’t know how much color correction was done on the film but the lighting was irregular from one frame to the next, especially during the sequences with Frank Fuller. Some shots the actors faces had a beam of light bouncing off them, the camera angle would change and then in the next frame it would be on the opposite side or removed all together. It’s a nit picky thing I know, given that this is a $16,000 film and I realize that, it’s just something I noticed and thought I’d mention. Some of the background music wasn’t the best or if it was a certain style of music it didn’t fit the moment. The songs I didn’t like became a distraction, the film may have benefited from incorporating some synth to help build the overall suspense instead.

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I understand details of the talked about murders needed to be exposed in one way or another, but the inclusion of the local neighbor Frank was a dead-end. His interactions with the group felt forced, Mark and the girls reacted as though they knew who he was, didn’t ask any questions and just started carrying on a conversation with him. I suppose  ultimately it led them to becoming aware of what had taken place in their cabin, I would have just preferred it was uncovered via newspaper clippings or something similar to what Sam and Justin discover in the last act. The stuff with Frank ends up just being filler that adds to the body-count, he’s written out without any on-screen warning or a reference through dialogue. Unfortunately I don’t think Scott Seagren was the only person grasping at straws here because Marla Lanen as neighbor Joan, fell well short of her mark too. Her first conversation comes about with members of the group while they are unpacking the car. It felt stiff and rehearsed and not at all convincing (maybe partly on purpose but I’m not sure). As the film went along I noticed she failed to really project any personality. Regardless of what type of character you write, they have to possess certain qualities that make them watchable otherwise it just doesn’t work, as is the case here.

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The first couple of deaths didn’t have the most fluent or rational setups either. I was thinking hey the killer would never make himself known in that way, and if you were approaching someone you didn’t know you’d probably be a little wary etc. A few small changes in the writing could have tidied some of those plot points up. It’s hard these days, in fact it’s almost impossible to devise an original look or feel of a killer because everything has been done before. Our mystery madman here is a cross between Leatherface and the Leatherface look-a-like from this years Slasher “Girlhouse”. I’m not sure if this film was conceived before the aformentioned but it’s difficult to not draw a comparison. That alone is not reason enough for me to disparage or denounce the film, but the lack of originality goes without saying and you have to critique that portion of the film accordingly. The only two aspects that took me out of this one were the insufficient amounts of blood and gore (at least in my mind) and the underplayed reactions, from everybody towards any and all events that take place in the latter part of the film.

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Furthermore, I’ve come to understand the restrictions on the blood and gore front. Whether it be a censorship and ratings related issue, or simply budgetary constraints there never seems to be enough to satisfy me. Like I said, the effects you do get to see are nicely executed, and there’s a good flow of the red stuff albeit in bursts. For a film that only runs about 66 minutes minus the credits it works well enough, unfortunately the end result is not quite the bloodbath I was hoping for. The question I ask is more about the characters and in part some of the acting/writing. Where was the ability for any one of these people to react appropriately to something extremely horrific that they’ve seen. I don’t want to point fingers at the cast because surely it’s a writing issue. Just a few notes here, not a single scream made by any of the girls, no attempts to find the car keys and drive away, not even Justin can be phased by the headless friend lying face down (well sort of haha) in the snow. Instead he opts to keep calm because things haven’t really escalated yet… okay then. You can’t have a film of this nature without the token freak out moment from at least one character, yet somehow no one ever does. You probably thought I was going to complain about the lack of nudity right?? Well there’s that too, but that’s okay I can deal. Characters reactions or lack there of I can’t, and unfortunately that dampens my overall experience.

Dismembering Christmas was a short, snappy and entertaining holiday themed, Slasher flick. A majority of the technical aspects were so professionally carried, made all the more impressive by the age and experience levels of Bosley and this entire group. The film looks and sounds great, the girls are gorgeous and most of the cast do their bit. The brisk running time, inclusion of a couple of inventive kills along with a fun finale make it worth your while. As I mentioned earlier, I would have loved to see a total bloodbath but I get that $16,000 in the greater scheme of movie making is chump change. A few sequences could have been re-written or dropped entirely to tidy it all up, and dare I say a couple of characters recast (my opinion obviously). Everyone needs to bring their A game in regards to their reactions, and in this one they just don’t. Whether that be because of writing or experience I’m not sure, perhaps it’s something to think about for future projects. I love Kevin’s work and this whole team of friends and acquaintances involved with Slasher Studios. Someone please give these guys some damn money! They are so talented and I think I can speak for all genre fans when I say, we as a community would love to see what they could do with a budget. Nice work guys!

My rating for “Dismembering Christmas” is 6.5/10

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