The 2011 Tribeca Film Festival rolls on, throwing more movies at us than any one person could see in the fest’s ten day run! There just aren’t enough hours in the day! With almost a hundred independent films from artists around the world, how are we supposed to choose which films to see? The legal drama about pharmaceutical companies’ unethical business practices? The documentary about communist cinema in Soviet Yugoslavia? Oh wait, there’s a Dutch slasher flick about a murderous ghost of Santa Clause! Yes, please! Check out the review for this foreign holiday horror flick after the jump…
So, who here is American? Most of us? Well, I’m sorry to let you down, but it turns out we were lied to about Santa Clause. And it’s not what you think, because it turns out that he does exist! But he’s not the jolly, benevolent fellow with a team of adorable reindeers and elves, giving gifts to all the good little children. According to director Dick Maas’ Sint (Saint), jolly ol’ St. Nick was a 15th century marauding warlord, who would terrorize Amsterdam on the feast of St. Nicklaus, December 5th, with help from his gang of Moorish “Black Peters.” But when the villagers become fed up with his reign of terror, they murder his team of helpers and set fire to his boat, killing him. Now, when the moon is full on the anniversary of the massacre, every 32 years, their ghosts return to take their revenge on an unsuspecting world which has forgotten about the horror that was Sinterklaas.
The thing that really makes this movie work is the imagery and mythology of Santa Clause in Dutch culture. Rather than a rosy cheeked, tubby elf in a velvet suit, St. Nicklaus looks more like a medieval religious icon, and is a much more imposing figure. He wears the robes and hat of a Catholic bishop, carries a long, ornate staff, rides a grey horse, and has a crew of lackeys behind him. Also, part of the mythology is that instead of leaving coal in the stockings of naughty children, he kidnaps them, puts them in a sack, and takes them to Spain. So it’s not exactly a stretch of the imagination that he may be a menacing character. All it takes is a few horrible burn scars on his face, and to turn the ornament on top of his staff into some kind of axe blade, and bam! Movie monster.
The characters are familiar enough: a group of horny students, doubtful police, and a twitchy detective who is the only one that knows the truth behind the legend, because his family was slaughtered by the evil saint when he was a boy. There are other undeveloped, peripheral characters who find themselves on the business end of the festive weaponry, which is actually beneficial to the film because it doesn’t drag along, waiting to dispatch all the main characters one at a time. Also, the kidnapping element of the mythology means that not even children are out of bounds, which is a bold move, because it takes some guts to murder a kid in a movie.No one in the whole city of Amsterdam is safe from Sinterklaas’ wrath.
The film has a fairly high body count, somewhere in the dozens. Although none of the deaths are particularly remarkable (at least not enough to go down in movie history), there are a few nice set pieces to satisfy the gore freaks that will no doubt see this film, regardless of reviews. There’s a sword through the face gag, an exploding head, and a corpse dropping down a chimney that all provide adequate jumps for the audience (Don’t worry, there are plenty of others not mentioned here). There’s also a prolonged chase scene in which Klaus is riding his horse across the rooftops of the city, which adds enough adrenaline to the film to keep it from being just a matter of even spaces between murders.
Sint is not exactly an achievement in cinema–very few horror movies are, especially slashers. However, it does follow the genre’s conventions well enough to be an entertaining film. It’s as much of a blockbuster as one might expect to come out of the Netherlands, and with the success of last year’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films, there could be an emerging market for Dutch cinema in the U.S., which could turn out to be quite interesting. The elements of style and craft are all present, and there is also a clear understanding of what makes a successful popcorn munching movie experience, leaving Sint a satisfying horror flick that’s worth sitting through for horror aficionados.