2020s

Review: Joe Begos’ ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’

Christmas Bloody Christmas Review - 2022 Joe Begos Shudder Movie Film

Vague Visages’ Christmas Bloody Christmas review contains minor spoilers. Joe Begos’ 2022 Shudder movie stars Riley Dandy, Sam Delich and Jonah Ray. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.

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The three most recent projects by Joe Begos arrived in remarkably quick succession, giving the impression that the prolific indie filmmaker can barely pause long enough to get the ideas out on the page. Begos first burst onto the scene in 2013 with Almost Human, his knotty feature debut and first collaboration with actor Graham Skipper, who is quickly becoming the director’s lucky charm — the Kurt Russell to his John Carpenter, if you will. Since then, Begos has shown impressive growth with each subsequent film, from The Mind’s Eye right up to his magnum opus — the sleazy, sexy and defiantly punk rock vampire movie Bliss. The writer, director, producer and sometimes actor returned to his sci-fi roots with 2019’s VFW, and now, with Begos’s latest offering, he switches tacks again by focusing on a murderous Santa robot. 

Christmas Bloody Christmas kicks off with a bunch of hilarious fake commercials, all of which are festive-themed, from an alcoholic beverage that’s suitable for the whole family to a promotion to see Santa Claus perform live in concert. The most pertinent advertisement, though, is for the RoboSanta+, a new model that’s clearly going to go the Small Soldiers route long before the decorations come down. It’s a clever way to introduce the movie’s antagonist without resorting to characters standing around explaining stuff they already know to each other. Having said that, much of the first act sees coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) trading barbs and arguing over everything from their favorite heavy metal albums to horror sequels that deserve more love (Dandy and Delich have nuclear chemistry, and Begos plays with the audience’s expectations about the protagonists inevitably hooking up). 

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Christmas Bloody Christmas Review - 2022 Joe Begos Shudder Movie Film

When Tori and Robbie do hook up, Begos focuses solely on the female character’s pleasure, which is a noteworthy move and still sadly all too rare in movies, both mainstream and otherwise. In fact, director Olivia Wilde recently courted controversy when she bragged that “Men don’t come” in her sophomore feature, Don’t Worry Darling. However, the scene in question is depressingly sterile and raises serious questions about the recipient’s consent given the movie’s ill-advised and groan-worthy twist. Christmas Bloody Christmas, on the other hand, not only takes its time celebrating female pleasure but also jumps between Riley and Robbie and the murderous robot next door as it tears through a neighbor’s house (side note: this Santa murders kids, making him technically even worse than Michael Myers). Begos creates a real sense of urgency by cutting back and forth between the film’s wonderfully gory kills and other, relatively mundane everyday activities. 

The RoboSanta+ begins his rampage at a local toy store, with Begos hinting that something is amiss via escalating shots of the villain standing there motionless, the robot’s disembodied voice echoing through the cavernous space, and finally his head slowly and ominously turning in the direction of his prey. The believably robotic movements of actor Abraham Benrubi, combined with some sparsely used robot sound effects, are hugely evocative. Indeed, the most famous killer robot movie, The Terminator, is referenced throughout Christmas Bloody Christmas, but Begos doesn’t so much pay homage as he strikes a bloody path of his own through the snow-covered streets of smalltown California. There’s a blacklight-rigged record store in the center of town that’s so cool it’s truly heart-breaking to learn that it’s not a real business (the crew built it from the ground up, but the space has since been turned into something normal and boring, sadly). Everything in Christmas Bloody Christmas is neon-drenched and moodily lit, with plenty of festive green and red lighting thrown in for good measure. Begos works with a similar palette to Bliss, and his star from that film, Dora Madison, even pops up in a cameo. 

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Christmas Bloody Christmas Review - 2022 Joe Begos Shudder Movie Film

Elsewhere, several horror fan favorites appear including a borderline unrecognizable Jeremy Gardner, Kansas Bowling, Jonah Ray, Matt Mercer and, of course, the aforementioned Skipper, who gets the best line of the entire movie. Begos himself has a fun cameo — and suffers one of the most violent deaths, natch — alongside his long-time collaborator, Josh Ethier, who also handles the crisp editing once again. The biggest name might just be Jeff Daniel Phillips, who recently starred as Herman Munster in Rob Zombie’s reboot of The Munsters. As the town sheriff, the actor has an absolute ball being useless in the escalating crisis, with Gardner portraying a similarly incompetent deputy. It’s worth noting, too, that every male character of note rocks some serious facial fuzz, with the only clean-shaven man being Tori’s lame-ass Tinder date, who never actually appears onscreen. Christmas Bloody Christmas might be blanketed in a near-constant and highly cinematic snowy downpour, but the film has the warm feeling conjured by a group of like-minded friends coming together and working hard to make something special. 

Despite the collaborative efforts, Christmas Bloody Christmas is assuredly Dandy’s film. The talented up-and-comer, who funnily enough starred in two treacly Christmas movies prior to this — A Kiss on Candy Cane Lane (2019) and A California Christmas: City Lights (2021) — tears it to shreds, leaving nothing but kindling in her wake. We need more Christmas haters in film, and of course Tori is going to despise the holidays even more after the events of this fateful night, but it’s also heartening to see a complicated, opinionated and unapologetic female character who isn’t punished for speaking up or taught to be more agreeable over the course of the movie. Moreover, Robbie doesn’t tear Tori down either, treating her as an equal and even arguably getting more turned on by her the more she fights with him. The duo also acts rationally, fleeing at the first sign of danger, reporting the situation to law enforcement and continuing running. 

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Christmas Bloody Christmas Review - 2022 Joe Begos Shudder Movie Film

Christmas Bloody Christmas is on a bigger scale than virtually everything else Begos has done to date, with terrific stunts and locations, and it’s heartening to witness his continued growth. The robotic Santa’s super-strength is demonstrated consistently throughout, so it feels like a real battle to the death. He’s believably hard to defeat and looks even scarier all messed up. Likewise, the Santa POV, with an axe raised in one hand, feels like a videogame we all wish existed (if it did, it’d probably look something like this). The FX are by Josh and Sierra Russell, the maestros who are quickly becoming the go-to for smart horror filmmakers (they worked on VFX and Bliss too, alongside many others), while the perfectly sleazy rock cuts blend pleasingly with the more synth-driven score by Steve Moore. Christmas Bloody Christmas is stylishly scuzzy, and the kills are super gory, but without Dandy it simply wouldn’t work as well as it does. Like Bliss, Begos’ latest is driven by a committed and utterly engrossing female lead performance. It’s a massive accomplishment, and yet more evidence that Begos is one of the most exciting filmmakers working in horror today.

Christmas Bloody Christmas releases December 9, 2022 on Shudder.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

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