DECEMBER 24, 2008
I am starting to notice a pattern with the discs in the 6 Films To Keep You Awake series. The first disc had two movies about abortion, and now disc 2 has two movies about children who love horror movies. But while A Real Friend ultimately turned out to have no real place in the realm of the supernatural, The Christmas Tale (Spanish: Cuento de navidad) is instead very reality-based until the final scenes.
NOTE - The ending will be SPOILED in the review!
So the whole movie is about these kids who find a robber in a pit in the woods, and rather than turn her in or even really help her, they leave her in there until she tells them where the money she stole is. It's a fun setup; sort of like a horror/thriller version of The Goonies (albeit with foul mouthed children - they are pretty much the sole reason for the film's R rating), but unfortunately writer Luis Berdejo really wants to make a horror movie, and after some sort of generic confrontations and turned tables, it turns out that the woman really is a zombie of some sort, which is what their adolescent imagination had come up with in the first place (thanks to their repeated viewings of a movie called Zombie Invasion).
I only wish this was presented as the 2nd act twist, rather than as a twist ending. It would have been great to be suddenly thrust into a whole different genre at some midpoint, a la From Dusk Til Dawn, instead of spending the entire movie wondering when it will earn its place in a horror collection. For a while I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to even really count it as a horror film, and then the ending is more horror than anything else in the collection thus far.
Luckily, until that point it's pretty entertaining. The kids are all good actors (strangely, Pan's Labyrinth's Ivana Baquero is the weakest; she often seems like she's simply reading her lines) and their interplay is delightful, particularly in the earlier scenes before they start fighting with one another. The group's resident "nerd" is the best, mainly due to his amusing (and ultimately helpful) fascination with The Karate Kid. Unlike Real Friend though, they either got the rights or simply didn't care enough to obtain them, so the movie's title is given (and the kid calls himself Daniel LaRusso). Edgar Wright once talked about how when they were making Spaced, it was important that they use real games/movies/whatever instead of generic ones that simply invoke real titles, because it became a lot easier for the audience to identify with the characters. I understand being a little kid who wants to be the Karate Kid; but I wouldn't feel as strong a tie to a kid who was obsessed with some generic action movie that the filmmakers shot specifically for this film.
Which is ironic, because the zombie movie they are all obsessed with is INDEED a fake horror movie. The clips we see of "Zombie Invasion" suggest an over the top hybrid of a Spanish zombie movie starring a Bruce Campbell esque tough guy, and not a very good one either. Maybe the idea that they were indulging in fantasy would come across better had a real film like Dawn of the Dead been used instead, because the horror fans watching this would remember their own Romero-inspired zombie games as kids.
There are a couple of horrific moments before the final reveal though. Our villain tries to claw her way to the top of the pit, and you all know what happens to fingernails during such occasions in horror movies. Also, while she is still human, her demented rampage/chasing of the kids is pretty suspenseful, mainly because you kind of suspect that maybe Berdejo and director Paco Plaza have the balls to kill one of them.
I had to laugh too; my review of Real Friend points out how some of the film's background ambience is lost because it is not translated. Not the case here; at one point, the subtitles helpfully translate the "never would have guessed it" Spanish word "fotographias" for us. Even more amusing, it's literally in the background of a shot and has no bearing on anything. It's not like the kid is hiding in the photo hut or whatever. Awesome.
One final note I want to make, I know I compared it to Goonies, but it's actually more like a mean-spirited ET, as in both films the kids find something and hide it from adults. But even more obvious is the fact that Plaza never shows any adult's faces (besides the robber, obviously). Two cops are introduced, but shot in a way that you never once see what they really look like. I found that pretty interesting, and even though the making of never says it (at least, not in the part I saw - the disc was scratched and I had to skip over some of it), it's obvious that ET was an influence on both writer and director.
The making of focuses mainly on the kids, how Plaza had them bond for a while before filming, and how they would practice the stunts and such. It's mildly entertaining, but a bit overlong (22 minutes), especially considering that some of it is just B roll footage with music playing over it. One thing I learned - actress Maru Valdivielso (the robber), who is made to look kind of ugly in the film, is actually quite pretty in reality. Why they would take a pretty woman and make her look like Julian Richings, I don't know, but hopefully her next movie allows her good looks to be seen.
What say you?