Any good horror anthology usually starts with a solid linking concept. It could be a wraparound or theme or even just the whole alphabet. In Holidays, the concept was pretty obvious. It's also pretty genius. Get a bunch of talented horror filmmakers together and assign them each a holiday. No need for an interweaving narrative, just make 'em all great. The result is a ton of fun and also points to some interesting thematic coincidences happening in the minds of today's brightest genre directors.
Holidays' cavalcade of thrills starts off with Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch's (Starry Eyes) extremely eerie and wonderfully stylized Valentine's Day. With striking cinematography from Adam Bricker, this segment tells the story of an outcast teen (Madeleine Coughlan) who gets teased to the breaking point. With only a crush on her beefcake swimming coach to keep her preoccupied, there's no telling what poor Maxine will do if she receives even the slightest hint of encouragement.
Widmyer and Kolsch knock it out of the park with Valentine's Day by putting together a segment that's entertaining, funny, kinda scary, and totally atmospheric. It also succeeds in one way that tends to get overlooked in many anthologies: it feels like one perfectly complete little bite. When you're done with Valentine's Day, you feel satisfied. But wait... there's more.
Up next is Gary Shore's (Dracula Untold) suitably Ireland-set St. Patrick's Day. The only real connection to the holiday itself is that its protagonist Elizabeth (Ruth Bradley) has a few too many to drink on said day and wakes up with something terrible growing in her womb. It's all linked to a creepy little girl in Elizabeth's classroom who is somehow responsible. It's funny, weird, and very atmospheric and another feather in the cap for a director to watch.
Nicolas McCarthy has been well known since his 2012 Sundance hit The Pact. His holiday draw was Easter and is perhaps the most directly connected to its day of celebration. The segment focuses on the night before when a young girl (Ava Acres) lies in terror/anticipation of the big day. The piece is very short and includes some of the funniest moments of the anthology mostly centering on the subject of why Jesus's resurrection is celebrated with brightly colored chicken eggs and rabbits. While that mystery remains unsolved, the ride there is pretty damn fun.
The next two segments share two similarities in both their linked holidays and relatively more serious tones. First is Mother's Day by Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Smith) followed by Father's Day by Anthony Scott Burns. While Smith's is darker than most parts of the anthology, Burns's piece is perhaps the only segment than be called genuinely scary. Both feature extra cool production design and cinematography but both also suffer a bit from not particularly wrapped up endings.
That brings us to the most experienced filmmaker of the bunch and his segment Halloween. This is of course Kevin Smith who has taken turns towards genre with Red State and Tusk -- though perhaps the term horror is a stretch. If you've seen the documentary Hot Girls Wanted (Smith obviously has) then you get the setup. Comely young ladies are tempted by fame and easy money into a house where pornography is the product. In this case, it's all about webcams. While the man at the center of Hot Girls Wanted is actually pretty likable, that is not the case of the character in Halloween (played by Harley Morenstein) and he becomes the target of a serious attempt to fight back by the three webcamers played by Ashley Greene, Olvia Roush, and... yep... Harley Quinn Smith. It a mostly harmless romp though it doesn't seem to care quite as much as the other segments and what it has to do with Halloween is up for debate.
Scott Stewart's (Legion) Christmas is quite possibly the only horror anthology segment that also has a Virtual Reality component. That's because the story is about a panicked dad (Seth Green) on Christmas Eve trying to find the year's hottest present, a pair of VR goggles called UVU and resorting to questionable methods to do so. When the characters slip on the UVU they see their deepest dreams and fears. Those segments were actually shot in 360 video and when the segment is viewed on a VR headset (such as the Samsung GearVR, which I viewed it on) you are transported with the character into the 360 space (the rest of the time you're just in a virtual movie theater). It's a cool gimmick but perhaps somewhat limiting when watched as part of the Holidays anthology as you're more likely to on a traditional flat screen.
The final segment in our year of days off from work is Adam Egypt Mortimer's (Some Kind of Hate) New Year's Eve (which is written by Valentine's Day's Widmyer and Kolsch). This one starts out as a bit more funny than scary but then gets pretty creepy and bloody. Overall it's a fitting ending to a pretty solid bunch of shorts.
Over the course of the eight segments, it is interesting to see themes emerge. Kids are a big part of Holidays which is pretty fitting as you're never as excited about a holiday as when you're young. But pregnancy shows up quite a bit as well. Satan also makes a few appearances whether thematically or literally. Mental illness and revenge are also popular subjects which is probably true in just about any horror anthology. Gladly there are absolutely no appearances by vampires in Holidays.
All in all the film is a very enjoyable and relatively fast moving as genre anothos go. That's perhaps no surprise given the talent on offer. It's the perfect movie to settle in on the couch and watch with a friend -- especially when you don't have to work the next day.