Shudder’s latest exclusive film, Christmas Presence, is a ghoulish, darkly comedic holiday horror film stuffed with charismatic performances and nasty scares at every turn.
Shudder’s Christmas Presence (a.k.a. Why Hide?) is the horror site’s latest Christmas-themed horror film. It centers on a group of old friends who decide to spend the holidays together in a remote lodge. What initially starts as a lively night, complete with underwear modeling and plenty of booze to go around, eventually devolves into a nightmarish hellscape constructed from the very thing each person fears most.
When one friend vanishes into the bitter, icy night, everyone begins to realize this lodge may not be as quaint and cozy as it seems. In fact, it is playing host to a cruel, unnatural force that doesn’t plan on letting anyone make it to the New Year.
Friends Until The Very End
Mackenzie (Charlotte Atkinson, you may know her as Tinker Bell from the 2011 Neverland miniseries), is the mastermind behind the cabin booking. Her reasoning for wanting to gather her group of friends at this particular place is a pretty big spoiler to the film’s overall plot, so I won’t reveal it, but it’s definitely a doozy. To say she’s still haunted by ghosts of her past would be an understatement.
Atkinson makes for a fine star but I wasn’t all that taken with her character. Her initial introduction begins with some rather homophobic sentiments (which is strange since three other characters in the film are members of the LGBT community) but her political stance is never touched upon again, making her outburst stick out like a sore thumb.Shudder’s Christmas Presence -Pictured: Charlotte Atkinson as McKenzie – Photo Credits: Sean Redlitz from AMC and Plenitude Productions
Jo (Orla Cottingham) and Samantha (Elsie Bennett) are in a relatively new relationship. Orla Cottingham plays Jo with charming candor and zaniness. Her eccentricities make her an on-screen riot and Elsie Bennett is totally endearing as the posh, but warm, aspiring writer, Samantha.
Hugo (William Holstead in his debut film role) is a flamboyant burst of excitable energy who wastes no time trading in cheap pleasantries for blistering snark and exchanges witticisms with anyone who will give him the time of day. He fires off insults and backhanded compliments with the speed of a bullet, but his bravado is well-balanced by his sweet sincerity, particularly when he knows a friend clearly needs it.
Affable Marcus (Mark Chatterton of Coronation Street) gets perhaps, the least characterization of the film, although we do learn he and his wife Anita (Lorna Brown of Holby City), are estranged. The two are never shown being affectionate and, god forbid, intimate, with one another.
They’re bickering from their very first scene together to their very last. Despite Marcus’ lack of a personality throughout, he does have more purpose in the climatic final scenes of Shudder’s Christmas Presence so don’t count him out just yet.
As for Anita, she is one of the only characters to have a real understanding of the malevolent forces plaguing the group. She refers to the creature invading their minds and surroundings as “Kwaku Anansi”, an entity originating from a Ghana folktale about a spirit who can take the form of any human, arachnid, or, horrifyingly enough, both at the same time.
Anansi is a trickster spirit who enjoys tormenting its victims by taking on the form of whatever it is they fear the most. Anita is also able to perform healing rituals and hypnosis, something Mackenzie undergoes to a varying degree of success at one point in the film.
Many of the actors in Shudder’s Christmas Presence are either newcomers or haven’t been in many mainstream television shows or films (at least in starring roles) but the familiarity they have with each other and with their characters is admirable. It’s as if they’re slipping into a second skin, comfortable in both their camaraderie, chemistry, and the story they’re telling.Shudder’s Christmas Presence -From left to right: Lorna Brown as Anita, Elsie Bennett as Samantha, and Charlotte Atkinson as McKenize – Photo Credits: Sean Redlitz from AMC and Plenitude Productions
Why Shudder’s Christmas Presence Works So Well
What I found so compelling about Christmas Presence was its refusal to fit inside the confines of any predispositions I may have had about what direction the film was going to take. Whenever you expect the plot to zig, it zags.
I didn’t anticipate the, sometimes, pitch-black nature of the humor in this film. It’s ruthless in both the dialogue (you’ll notice how barbed the zingers are these so-called friends toss back and forth between each other with ease) and in the execution of individualized death scenes.
One moment in particular made me gasp because of how brilliant and delightfully ludicrous it was with it’s cheeky take on the term “Lesbian Bed Death”, I’ll let your imagination run wild (or better yet just watch the film).
When you think you’re watching a farce in one scene, the next throttles you with a terrifying sequence of demonic entities and creeping fingers crawling out of doorways ready to snake inside their next victim.
The only caveat of the full-tilt insanity Shudder’s Christmas Presence eventually becomes is it leaves little room for logic or a comprehensive explanation of some of the biggest plot elements. Luckily, it doesn’t make the film less entertaining but it will leave you with some serious questions and theories to ponder in order to make sense of it’s somewhat abrupt ending.
The backbone of the plot is something we’ve seen done many times before but the film’s execution is wholly original and I commend them for attempting something so unorthodox with a a familiar story.Shudder’s Christmas Presence -Pictured: Danny Webb as Moseley – Photo Credits: Sean Redlitz from AMC and Plenitude Productions
Frosty Camera Work and Effects
James Edward Cook, who, in addition to doing the film’s cinematography, also directed and co-wrote the film (with Karen Taylor). He should be applauded for the incredible job he did with some of the outdoor sequences he filmed.
Interspersed between visions of the central house are moments where we get to bear witness to a beautifully sinister frost-eaten landscape. Snow dominates the greenery, strangling the life from the foliage and shelters shadows between the trees, allowing them to slither inside the vacancies and take root to horrify the unknowing guests within.
I’m not sure whether or not the scenery was done with special effects or if they were lucky enough to actually capture a real-life winter wonderland (or winter nightmare in this case) but either way, I was chilled by the slow moving camera pans and sweeps across the lodging grounds.
There is already something disturbing about the idea of what monstrosities or creatures may be dwelling in the dark heart of the woods, but even more so when you drape the entire forest in a blanket of ice and snow and then wade between almost skeletal tree remains.
A ring of mysterious large stones serves as another focal point in the film. The stones form an inexplicable circle deep within the woods, it appears like the foundation of an altar, and the first time we see our antagonistic entity, or Anansi, it crawls out of centre to swallow its first victim in amidst ghostly black tendrils and a gnarled hand.
The CGI is used sparingly and therefore it is all the more impactful when it appears. The supernatural haunts in this film are designed with a meticulous hand, one that summons nightmarish concoctions only the darkest minds could think of.
I imagine this film didn’t have a large budget but there were some frights in this more effective than those I’ve seen in blockbuster horror films of the past year. It just goes to show that sometimes the less you see and the more you allow your own imagination to fill in the blanks, the better.
Shudder’s Christmas Presence is a Plenitude Productions film.
What were your favorite parts of Shudder’s Christmas Presence? What other holiday horror films do you love watching every year? Let us know in the comments!
Christmas Presence is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.