When it came to my attention that there was an 85 minute Christmas film starring Michael Shannon, Judy Greer, Thomas Lennon, Ron Perlman, Ian McShane and Christina Hendricks, and that it had a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, I knew that I had to see it, and quick. In fact, it is how I opened my 2020 Exploratory Christmas Endeavor. It was not, however, the first movie I wrote about for my Exploratory Christmas Endeavor, because despite its being only 85 minutes long, it was so bad that I managed to watch an entire other, better movie before finishing this one.
I want to give credit where credit is due: there are a handful of decent laughs, and about two worthy moments of Christmasy sweetness in this film. That being said, however, this is easily one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and it is certainly one of the most perplexing: how could something like this come to exist?
In a world where things like Movie 43 happen, we know it is entirely possible for the creators of bad things to fail upward through a chain of celebrity sign-ons, to release well-peopled garbage into the world. Still, when you can’t get a clear explanation, it really captures the same, morbidly curious part of one’s imagination that leads to a fascination with true crime.
This movie starts innocently enough, in a gorgeous location, with very nice set design to match. There is, however, a lot of weird color grading that feels very over-the-top, reminiscent of late-90s, early-2000s movies like those by David Fincher. That’s a stylistic choice, and a fairly harmless one, but things seem more like the consequence of poor decision making in the cinematography department. This movie exists almost exclusively in close-ups and medium shots. It feels very claustrophobic.
The characters are not characters. I don’t believe anyone in this movie changes or grows during the runtime, except perhaps for Ron Perlman’s sheriff who learns, through no ordeal whatsoever, to admit freely to being a furry.
And if you know me personally, you will know that I have struggled throughout much of my life to come to terms with furries. I know that what they do is harmless, innocent fun, which has nothing to do with me and is no sillier than people passionately caring about sports, or model trains, or NASCAR, etc. But still, in some deep, gut way, they have always irritated me. A lot.
Believe me as an authority, then, when I say, this movie is very unkind to furries in a way that is needlessly mean and ugly. It would seem out of touch and cruel if it took place in a better, funnier movie. But this is barely a comedy at all, and what’s more, it is a Christmas movie. And Christmas movies can be mean: I love Bad Santa, for example, and try to watch it every year. But this isn’t a movie whose theme is meanness. Its attitude and writing toward furries feels like the ultimate example of punching down.
But I’ve strayed too far from the subject of characters. Did I mention that this film doesn’t have a protagonist?
Ostensibly, it is Michael Shannon’s Maynard, but he might have the fewest lines and the least screen time of anyone apart from his wife. He is playing someone about half-way between the Christmas pot dealer of The Night Before and his low-key, pathetic and defeated Walt Thrombey from Knives Out…that is, he seems always far away, detached from what is going on around him. It is hard to care about a character who refuses to be invested in his own story.
The actual premise of this movie infuriates me, because I want nothing more than to avoid talking about it–it is that stupid and off-the-mark for a Christmas film–and yet, it is the plot, and it demands to be discussed for that reason:
This is a “Christmas movie” about a man who, upon finding out his wife is a furry, and ready to leave him, gets drunk on moonshine, dresses in a gorilla mask and hunting jacket, and accidentally dupes the town into believing that they have a sasquatch living in their midst. This draws in a TV cryptid hunter, and an extremely short, boring game of cat-and-mouse plays out, leading to Maynard’s being caught in what might be the laziest case of the Liar Revealed plot that I have yet seen in a movie.
Spoilers for this bad movie follow:
Once Maynard is revealed to be the Bigfoot, the town toys with being angry at him for roughly 15 seconds of screen time before Judy Greer, the most likable and least believable doormat in the film offers up a moment of genuine Christmas sweetness, which absolutely deserves to have been written into a better film: she points out to the townspeople that Maynard’s general store tab book is actually empty, and that he has been giving them an endless supply of credit and good faith because that’s just the kind of guy he is.
That is so sweet! I wish the story or the screen time given to the supposed main character actually made me feel something about it. In the next scene, Maynard is seen talking to a TV reporter about the deceptive ‘squatch mix-up, and he gives another little nugget of Christmas goodwill: he says that “hope isn’t always the most realistic thing, but it tends to make the world a better place.” Yes! Why wasn’t there more of that kind of thing in this yule log fire of a movie?
It’s an incredible missed opportunity. Between the cast and the hints of good ideas, one has nothing but to lament that the script wasn’t better. It’s not the kind of bad that you can enjoy for a laugh. It’s the other kind of bad. The kind of bad that you can’t sit through in one sitting, even though the movie is 85 minutes long. Here in the offices of the Dayton Upstairs Recording Studio, we call it:
GBU Holiday-Adjusted Rating: 1/10
If you absolutely have to give it a shot–and I am morally obligated to remind you that you are not–this movie is streaming on Netflix.