Ed. note– Did you barbecue and head to the beach this Memorial Day? If so, then reading this review of THE CHRISTMAS PARTY is a perfect way to celebrate your first week of American summer!– P.F.
One of the joys of finding a director I like is hunting down everything he ever directed. With George Romero, once I’d gotten through NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and CREEPSHOW, it was off to discover SEASON OF THE WITCH and THE CRAZIES. Doing so creates a through line on the director’s career for me, and I like to watch how a director evolves and changes as he adds to his catalogue. This kind of hunt led me to ask Jeremiah Kipp for a link to his short film, THE CHRISTMAS PARTY. He kindly supplied one, and I eagerly jumped right in. What I got was not quite what I expected, but that in itself was an exciting revelation.
The short finds Gabriel depressed on Christmas Eve at his grandparents’ house. When his mom calls, it’s apparent that she’s got serious problems (though they’re never fully revealed, I suspect she’s an alcoholic). Trying to cheer the kid up, his grandparents send him to a local couple up the road who are hosting a party for the neighborhood’s kids. There we meet Don and his wife, and the film takes a turn as the couple are obsessed with religion and ready to convert Gabriel, whose family is religiously lax.
As I mentioned, this film was not what I expected. Though not a very traditional director, Kipp is a horror director. So I kept waiting for something outwardly horrific to happen. That never came. What I got in its place, though, was intriguing. The film boils down to a struggle for a boy’s soul, as the zealots want to sway Gabriel far to one side, while his grandpa tugs him toward religious apathy. There are no raging monsters here, no sadists, no minions, no breaking open of heads. In their place are something much worse: adults Hellbent on their own ideologies, and willing to foist them onto a precocious child who’s suffering from family problems. As Don, Tom Reid is creepy, glowering over the children as he guides them toward blind faith (he seems dour even when he’s smiling, and that’s a credit to Reid). Peter Barker should be the counterbalance as the grandfather, but he’s just as dour in the end. The crushed expression on the boy’s face at the film’s end is the true horror in THE CHRISTMAS PARTY, and Kipp nails it.
Stylistically, the film is way outside what has become Kipp’s norm. Whereas his most recent output generally comes across as fever dreams, focusing more on visual poetry than story, PARTY has a straight narrative; which is interesting mostly because Kipp wrote it. As for the visuals, they’re more standard than most of his fare, though he does a great job of capturing the woods on the night’s drive home, and there’s something sinister about the way the party house is lit, especially when populated by a bunch of kids.
And speaking of kids, what grandfather drops his grandson at the home of a total stranger and says, “Okay, I’ll be back in a few hours to get you?” Gabriel is lucky he didn’t get molested, or worse. Adults are just not good people in this short.
It’s a short well worth watching. Though I expected something far from what the actual film was, I was pleased to see that even a more restrained Jeremiah Kipp can still creep me out, fever dream or no. Kipp’s come a long way in 13 years, and this is a fine example of what a talented director can do in his formative years.