Review: O’Hellige Jul

For some people, Christmas is the most terrible time of the year. No family, no friends, pressure of buying and everyone is oh so happy. In O’Hellige Jul however, Santa Claus is the least happy person of them all.

ohelligejulposterComing from a group of enthusiastic Norwegian amateurs, O’Hellige Jul (meaning O Holy Christmas) takes place in a small town the days before Christmas. We are first introduced to the baddie, a serial rapist and killer who has tied up an entire family, probably planning to massacre them while they are watching eachother die. He succeeds at raping the wife and commit one further unspeakable crime before the movie introduces us to the movie’s main characters, two guys and a girl, who prepares for Christmas with insane amounts of alcohol and generally badmouthing eachother. One is bound to his wheelchair and taking too much crap, the other guy is just plain stupid, and the girl is not too bright either since he chooses to hang with the loosers, so it doesn’t look so good for either of them. Little do they know that it’s going to get worse….

Norway’s horror scene is still in its infancy, which means that mainstream movies play safe and independent movies are the ones pushing the envelope. No horror movies with two, three or four million dollars budgets have tried to be innovative in Norway so far, and O’Hellige Jul therefore joins the ranks of movies that are produced on shoestring budgets but still manages to go beyond most of what’s been seen before (FYI, a Norwegian shoestring budget could be 5 or 15.000 dollars, not the 300.000 dollars Americans call low budget). The opening sequence alone includes a scene that should churn the stomacks of most viewers, and it’s not just a lot of screaming and blood sprayed on walls, it’s actually on camera! The brutal violence is plentiful, especially in the last third of the film, where graphic, on-camera, full daylight gore is shown with no holds barred. Thankfully, the quality of the effects throughout the movie is quite good, or should I say; how they are staged and filmed. The choreography of the violence is more than good enough to be convincing in most cases. You can throw buckets of fake blood all over the place but if severed heads are not filmed right, it won’t look right. The scene where a head is cut off is the prime example; the Troma-esque low budget is evident, but there is still chilly intensity, and it’s nice to see that some movies prefer to show everything in its full glory. Not all accounts of suggested fear is better if you want viewers to feel sick and dirty. And, when there is less to gross out from, the images are still surprisingly good throughout the movie. DP Raymond Volle worked with the little he had and squeezed some good images out of the almost dry stone, which any low budget movie is. Poor images is a typical shortcoming of many amateur movies, but here colour grading and camera positions enhance not just the story, but the overall ambiance of the film. He also managed to squeeze in numerous references to classic horror movies of all kinds too, by the way. Can you count all the references and hints?

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The middle of the film is a somewhat slower part where another kind of horror is debated; outsiders, the lonely, the abusers who may not think too much of Christmas. For quite a few people, Christmas is a sad period where, if you cannot partake in big feasts or buy expensive gifts, you are reminded of your misery. For others, Christmas is the most stressful time of the year, with all the cookies, presents, dinners and decorations that must be prepared. This is illustrated in the second part of the movie, where the trio unsuccessfully tries to cosy up by way of the world’s most ridicilous glühwein and attacking the Christmas tree. It’s the more serious side of O’Hellige Jul, where dark comedy and black humour segues into a different kind of horror while throwing the film back to the kitchen sink era of Norwegian films, a period which isn’t remembered fondly by too many Norwegians. This part is somewhat slow and rather long, just like the waiting time before Christmas for those who hate the red and white holiday. If the movie should be trimmed before it’s video release, this is where some cuts can be made.

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Our miserable friends then “get what they deserve” from bad Santa. Early on we learn who he is; a pervo working at NAV (an authority that handles the unemployed, the sick and disabled, and the homeless under one roof), where he hands out jobs with one hand and jerks off with the other. Judging from his hallucinations, something is haunting him and he decides to let someone pay with blood. The social allegory is spread thick here, as thousands of Norwegians feel they are unfairly treated and “screwed” by NAV, which is supposedly standing in the way for people’s rights to financial support and medical rehabilitation. NAV is actually a type of Santa, as you can get substantial “presents” from them, but they can also make your life sour by either refusing benefits, or smashing your head open with a hammer. It’s not the most advanced critique of the Norwegian welfare system, but it works perfect in this case as a framework for Santa being the bad guy, and not some random redneck moonshine slacker.

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Additionally, just like the special effects and the cinematography, the actors are also surprisingly good. All of them are amateurs, so they don’t act like movie stars do, they are just normal people (the NAV guy excepted, of course – most case administrators working at NAV are not sick killers, according to information on NAVs website). And even if not all lines are delivered with grace and punch, the actors have a kind of naturalness and dogme-like style to their performances that suit the film well. In this type of film, professional actors would probably be miscast anyway, and I can’t think of any professional actress in Norway being willing to be raped with a [see the movie to know what I am talking about].

While rather crude by most standards, for it’s budget and intentions O’Hellige Jul is a remarkable and efficient movie, with some of Norway’s highest amounts of gore effects to date. Somewhat slow in the middle part, but everything else makes up for that.

Rated 7 of 10.

Directed by Per-Ingvar Tomren and Magne Steinsland.

Norway, 2013.

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