FrightFest 2011 Review: SAINT

At 84 minutes, this is breezy holiday horror which doesn't outstay its welcome and has a dash of wit to go along with the ridiculous premise, not to mention firm, stylish direction despite the low budget.

Shaun Munro

Contributor

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Well, here’s an unpretentious horror film that’s daft from the very first frame and doesn’t let up throughout. Saint, the latest feature from Dick Maas (The Lift, Amsterdammed), begins as what appears to be another well-produced though ultimately hollow and soulless medieval horror pic – mirroring Hollywood’s stodgy recent efforts such as the diabolical Nicolas Cage vehicle Season of the Witch – only to transform into a far more engaging film awash in postmodern flourishes and some clever, knowing humour. This is exactly the sort of film that tends to go down well with the Frightfest crowd.

While Saint begins with the burning of Saint Nicolas – who, it turns out, was actually a murderous, tyrannical bishop-turned-pirate – the story for the most part actually takes place in the present day, a smart decision given the track record of historical-era horror pics to be dull and uninvolving. It’s still goofy as Hell from start to finish, but the premise doesn’t want for inspiration, going the Rare Exports route of touting itself as a seasonal horror with a darkly comic bite, and it’s surprisingly charming as a result.

On every December 5th full moon, Saint Nick returns to Amsterdam to unleash a torrent of murder and destruction along with his faithful minions, the Black Peters, while the Dutch government frantically try to cover the, ahem, sleighings, up with various natural disasters and incidents of civil unrest. The one person wise to it all, a weathered cop dismissed as crazy by his colleagues, tries to put a stop to it while a group of unaware students, partaking in the seasonal festivities dressed as Saint Nick and his cohorts, are promptly suspected of causing the slaughter themselves.

In tone, this plays much more like an American horror film – that is to say, it’s thoroughly ridiculous and unapologetically gratuitous – though it is also less self-serious than the usual homogenous multiplex fare, with its tongue lodged firmly in the cheek, allowing some surprisingly funny one-liners to spill out. The direction, meanwhile, is handled with unexpected style (often a deal-breaker for films of this type in particular) and a decent standard of visual effects, even if the creatures are hardly brimming with originality or visual inventiveness.

Once the mayhem starts, the film is a lot of fun; it’s gory, has enough of its share of action in the second half, and never, ever takes itself seriously, which is probably the biggest plus. Impressively, the film manages to be completely wacky while still being impressively staged; the sight of Saint Nicolas riding his horse over the rooftops as the bemused citizens stare on is visually convincing and frankly just pretty damn amusing.

Don’t expect it to linger in your mind long after it ends, but for a film of such obscurity, it’s surprisingly convincing when lined up against its wealthier, better-known Hollywood contemporaries. At 84 minutes, this is breezy holiday horror which doesn’t outstay its welcome and has a dash of wit to go along with the ridiculous premise, not to mention firm, stylish direction despite the low budget.

 

Saint currently has no U.K. or U.S. release date set.