Jingle Hell is a 29 minute horror film that takes place on Christmas. Set in the panoramic beauty of the American wilderness, the title gives insight into what is to come. Jingle Hell might better be called Nativity Damnation or Christmas Descent, and following suit, a lack of sophistication plays out. But a limit put on the complexity of the tale and the execution of the horror is exactly what makes Sean Cruser’s production so terrifying.
Nathan (Tyler Beveridge) and Margo (Poonam Basu) are the couple who are up against it, and are not the stereotypical sleek looking married couple of ten years. No longer gaga for each other, their performances returns a down to earth affection, and a baby on the way, ordinary is all the more established.
Unfortunately, an ominous sounding score (Jaysen Lewis) befits the cavernous wilderness expanse, and tells us that any screams must travel a long way to be heard. Sorry, there’s no way this ends well.
On the other hand, the couple’s quick look around implies a relieving opposite. Any problems are going to have to travel a long way to upset the idyllic respite. So pleasingly serene, Kim Cohen and Sean Cruser allay our concerns with their cinematographic presentation. That is until the party starts.
Randall (Keith Szarabajka) appears, and in channeling the crazy old wilderness coot, Szarabajka’s inhospitality has some pretty sharp incisors.
But the stereotype also calls for neighborly, and Szarabajka plays that part too. So we are recalibrated and peaceful surroundings take precedence. Well, not entirely, Randall still has an air of creepiness, and it’s clear that we’re far from out of the woods.
Darkness settling in, we are not reassured either. Even so, Margo’s sister (Shalini Bathina) and her husband (Murphy Martin) drop in to share some Christmas cheer and a sense of normalcy returns again. The fact that the two sisters are a bit estranged makes it all the more familiar.
Christmas for sure, but Grace and Spencer are also a little off. Spencer has the sense of humor of an adolescent, and not even a mature one. Martin oozes inappropriateness and the way the actor rejoices in his own jokes reveals his past. Seventh grade probably didn’t have many classmates going along for his silly ride either.
Grace, on the other hand, wears the grownup pants. But Bathina’s restraint doesn’t hold up. The actress plays the straight man to his bad comedy, and signals her approval beyond whatever seriousness she portrays.
Still, when the couple leaves, Nathan and Margo are left to enjoy their seclusion. That is until the main event begins with a rap on the door, which reveals a solitary figure in the darkness.
In keeping, the frightening imagery that emerges on the turn doesn’t rely on a sophisticated intervention of a makeup artist. After all, real people up to no good don’t have movie professionals on the payroll.
They also don’t have time to come up with elaborate cat and mouse scenarios and don’t have the Oscar worthy chops to deliver the psychological assault as a Hannibal Lecter.
So the evil doers don’t stray far from their own baselines. Having transitioned from once normal people who now kill for the fun of it, their mind games are more everyday.
In this, the taunts sound more like a couple of kids teasing a classmate that they suddenly have the upper hand over. The gore is major league, though.
Keeping in mind an independent film budget, visual effects aren’t easily achieved. So we don’t see the hatchets and hammers land, but the bone crunching and gut penetrating sound effects creates the visual image.
Leaving a mark on our minds, it doesn’t matter who’s left standing. The simplicity kills, and makes Jingle Hell to die for.