Secret Santa
At first it seems that Director Adams Marcus and co-writer/star Debra Sullivan’s decision to basically throw any gross visual or verbal idea that came into their heads into this Christmas film, without apparently thinking too much.

The film opens in slow motion with bloody snow globes and a fight. We then go back four hours earlier as the Pope family gather for the meal. Each brings something to the table with April (A Leslie Kies) is a recovering alcoholic while her sister Penny (Ryan Leigh Seaton) is overweight and bitter. Then there’s mother Shari (Debra Sullivan) a domineering harpy and her sister Carol (Pat Destro) at times her foil. Estranged angry father Leonard (John Gilbert) appears for good measure. Add in Aprils fiancé Ty, stepson and girlfriend, uncles and caterers and Marcus and Sullivan have given themselves a lot to play with.

It’s crowded but by and large it all holds together well with family sniping merrily at the table while drinking a laced punch; their vicious verbal’s cutting deep as tongues are loosened and long held truths and opinions are aired. The cutting gets literal as the family and caterers descend into mayhem with the disgusting side-effect that anyone who drank it develops boils and throws up, copiously.

There’s very basic crassness to Secret Santa and some of the laughs are easy and cheap, it’s not however just a series of gags as there’s a very witty and well observed script here too with some pretty good performances from all the cast.

4 stars

The Dark

Justin P Lange’s The Dark is an unpleasant story on several levels; domestic abuse, violence and cannibalism. Set almost entirely outdoors the wilderness of the forest perfectly suits the tone of the film with its cold sterile colours that foil with the grim story.

Josef (Karl Markovics) is driving through deep forest looking for a place called Devil’s Den escaping a manhunt. He stumbles onto the almost feral, badly scarred Mina (Nadia Alexander) who kills and feeds on him. Taking a closer look at the car she finds the blind and disfigured Alex (Toby Nichols).

Mina takes to Alex though is still in some sort of hold of Josef having been the subject of abuse. Gradually an element of trust develops as they are pursued by the law and bounty hunters though they are dispatched by Mina. Mina now starts to remember her early life with an uncaring mother and a boyfriend who was abusive to her. He goes too far and when she fights back there are consequences.

There's a genuine dirt under the nails unpleasantness about some aspects and the subject matter is difficult but Lange does manage to draw out some sympathy for the characters as they become friends through their ordeal. Fine performances too from the young cast make this a solid debut.

3 stars