In 2008, Lionsgate released 6 Films to Keep You Awake, a conglomeration of six (no shit, right?) somewhat short Spanish horror films from different directors, most of whom, are of Spanish decent. The mastermind behind the this set is Narciso Ibáñez Serrador of Who Can Kill A Child fame and with us being knee deep in Death-cember, the no-brainer film to be discussed from this set is 2005's A Christmas Tale (Cuento de Navidad).
Written by Luis Berdejo and directed by Paco Plaza, who are the writer and co-director of the fantastic Spanish zombie film, [REC], A Christmas Tale is about five pre-teen kids that stumble upon a woman dressed in a Santa suit and trapped in a large deep hole in the woods. They decide to help her out, but when two of the boys go to the police, they discover that the woman is wanted for robbing a bank for two million pesetas.
With this information, the children decide not to help the woman out of her trappings, but instead of calling an adult or telling the police for that matter, these kids take a different route. A few of the youths decide it would be a good idea to try and get the stolen money from this unintentionally trapped thieving Santa, using the leverage that she cannot get out without their help. Cross dressing Santa's aren't down with extortion, but with a choice of losing all of her money, or being trapped in a massive hole and left to die, well, there's no real wiggle room there.
At a scant 71 minutes, A Christmas Tale works like two very different films in terms of tone. The first half is almost like a kid's movie right out of the 80's and is very reminiscent of films like Stand By Me and the Brian Trenchard-Smith film, The Quest (man I loved that movie). It is set in 1985, so you see a film set in that time period, that is also successfully conveying how life was for a lot of kids that age, at that time.
If you are in your mid 20's to mid 30's, you will love all of the bad-ass retro movies and TV shows that these children are in to. They use code names that are all characters from the A-Team, one kid is completely obsessed with the Karate Kid (I still am), and you get glimpses of bedrooms filled with Star Wars toys and Ghostbusters stuff strewn about. A few of the characters watch what is a film within a film titled Zombie Invasion, which is like an Exploitation Zombie movie that is inter-cut into A Christmas Tale. It serves no other purpose than to show that these kids are into the same stuff many of us were when we were kids and I am assuming the filmmakers were into also.
This is very well done and really brings a fun sense of nostalgia in how it is all captured, and it brings about a sense of connection to the characters as you can see a bit of yourself in these kids in one way or another. How far does that connection go though? That is where the film takes a turn from fun 80's kids movie, to a much darker place when a few of the characters become manipulative and it shows how even youth can be driven by greed and power.
We are all like the kids in many ways and most of us would do differently in such a situation. Others...maybe not so much. The way a few of the characters treat their siblings and this woman, who is essentially bad, but still a human, shows how evil some people can be when put into certain situations. There is also consequence in making the decisions that are made and without getting into too much detail, when the woman escapes her unholy hole; she is not too pleased about what the children did to her.
Outside of the trapped woman, there are no adults to be "physically" seen in this film, which shows you that these kids are in their own little world, almost living by their own rules. All of the youthful actors in A Christmas Tale are very solid and believable in their roles, and all but one of the children are boys, with the lone girl being played by a pre-Pan's Labyrinth Ivana Baquero. Maru Valdivielso as the trapped thief in a Santa suit is fantastic and when you get into the more horrific elements of this film, she is quite scary and effective and makes for a great villain of sorts.
A Christmas Tale is an enjoyable, nostalgia filled romp that is very well made and something that is not commonly seen these days. The feeling of retro-kids films is spot on and the horror elements are all in place for a fun holiday fueled ride that is well worth a watch for the Christmas season. I cannot stress enough what a great bargain the 6 Films to Keep You Awake is; with 6 semi-short Spanish horror films for under $20, you just can't beat it.