Anthology horror is quickly becoming the new found-footage in terms of middling quality and audience derision. Although there are undeniable classics such as the original installment of V/H/S, the subgenre is becoming inundated with half-baked, tenuously connected collections of shorts with increasingly amateur conceit and intent. Unfortunately, 2016’s HOLIDAYS proves to be yet another example of anthology horror’s careening towards the tepid. As with any release of this nature there is the odd highlight, but as a whole, HOLIDAYS lacks the thematic and narrative cohesion of TRICK ‘R TREAT or a concept so fresh and innovative that it mostly sidesteps any criticism (THE ABCS OF DEATH). As such, it is almost entirely forgettable.
The premise is self-explanatory: eight directors of varying cultural cachet turn in holiday horror shorts self-described as “subversive.” I’m always a fan of a nice subversion, but this descriptor can only be applied to two shorts, if that. The two clear takeaways in my opinion are “St. Patrick’s Day” and “Easter,” as they eschew the aggrandized self-seriousness that plagues the other installments and aim for dark, uneasy comedy. Telling the story of an elementary school teacher who becomes impregnated with a reptilian entity (in honor of the holiday’s more rural legends), “St. Patrick’s Day” is the perfect blend of unsettling imagery and self-aware humor. Although some viewers may be frustrated by the sudden tonal shift into absurdist comedy at the end, the final scene is so ridiculous and illogical that it can’t help but be endearing. This subverts both our popular conceptions about St. Patrick’s Day, and the general expectations for a horror short. “Easter” is similarly subversive in its holiday mythos, combining the figures of Jesus and the Easter Bunny into a paranormal antagonist that has to be seen to be believed. This is the most traditionally effective short presented, as it’s clever, uneasy, and makes good use of a solitary jump scare.
Unfortunately, the rest is a carnival of mediocrity. “Valentine’s Day” has such a tired, predictable premise that the viewer will be able to guess the ending from the very first shot, “Mother’s Day” is similarly bereft on a creative level, feeling like a less urgent version of “Safe Haven” from V/H/S 2, and while narratively functional, “New Year’s Eve” has almost nothing to do with the holiday it’s based around. The most disappointing effort is “Christmas,” which features one of the more inspired concepts but chooses to end it in a cartoonishly impotent fashion without exploring any of the less obvious nooks and crannies promised by incorporating a virtual reality device into the narrative. Kevin Smith’s “Halloween” is certainly the project with the most buzz behind it, but as with nearly all Kevin Smith vehicles, viewers will find it an acquired taste. While most of it is dedicated to Smith’s brand of verbose bullshitting, it has the most mature climax, as it leaves an exceptionally unsettling death offscreen and to our imagination. However, there’s so much filler that it’s not nearly as exciting as it could have been.
Oddly released in a time period close to absolutely none of the days of celebration it involves, HOLIDAYS feels extraneous from start to finish. Although there are two shorts worth some minor attention, none but the most ardent Netflix apologists need apply.
Two of its eight shorts are worth a cursory watch, but as with many examples of recent anthology horror, the rewards are too stingy to justify all of the filler.