Friday, November 4, 2011

The Christmas Box

NetFlix N/A
IMDB 7/10
My Rating: 2/10  
Sincerity Factor: 0/10
Treacle Factor: 9/10

A struggling small business owner and his family move in with an elderly heiress seeking paid companions, then get nagged to the brink of insanity about their lifestyle.

(For these Christmas films, I've added a couple of new categories up top.  Sincerity Factor is just that...  Does the movie's holiday message feel sincere or forced, artificial, or commercial?  Treacle Factor is a measure of how syrupy the flick is, useful for those allergic to rosy-cheeked children learning miracles are real.)

I cast around a bit trying to decide what to kick off the holiday movie deluge with, and in the end I picked this simply because I already had a lot of it written.  Be warned that this will be one of the angriest movie reviews I've ever posted here.  I did not just actively dislike this film, I loathed it - I hated its message, its condescending tone, its hateful subtexts, and I came away wanting to hurt it.  This is a movie that I'd love to beat to death in a back alley with a nail-studded baseball bat.  Do NOT watch this. If you find yourself looking for a holiday-themed movie, please go and watch Gremlins instead.  I enjoy some warm & fuzzy holiday movies, the kind that make cool people blech, but holy cochon, this was awful. Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas may have been saccharine heartwarming fluff, but at least it had camp, humor, and a positive message. Christmas Box was just.... damn.

How could a movie offend me so?  Me, the guy who will happily watch, "Chainsaw Strippers from Mars"?  Well, let me stress first off that I'm not really a Christmas curmudgeon.  I like the Grinch, the Charlie Brown special, Cosmic Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and any number of other holiday faves.  This movie, however, belongs to a class of preachy, overly religious, exclusionary holiday films that make me gag - Watching it is like having an officious churchlady wag her finger in your face for two hours.  So, where to start with this...?

Our hero, played by Richard Thomas (and indeed, the only reason I gave this even 2 points was that the actors were good) is a struggling small business owner trying to keep his family sheltered and fed until his business starts making money.  Anyone who has been in this situation can immediately relate to his difficulties - Stress, constant overwork, not able to spend enough quality time with his family, and the daily fears of failure and destitution.  Unable to make rent money, the family is forced to take shelter in the mansion home of an aging and bitter heiress, to serve as maids and groundskeepers.  Mrs. Parkin is a thoroughly unpleasant character who immediately takes a dislike to Richard, and spends most of the film either chiding him or undermining his efforts to make his business work.  In the end, we discover that she lost a child and is dying, and her displeasure with Richard is due to what she sees as him not having "real values" (ie, not spending more time with his family), and of course not being Christian enough to suit her.  Eventually the cutesy angels come for her and we're supposed to feel sad that this cancerous old bitch is dead, and inspired at the wholesome bonding of the young family.

Inexplicably (to me anyway), it has a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon and a 7+ rating on IMDB, where loads of reviewers say it is their favorite Christmas film and is the most wonderful holiday film they've ever seen. Things like this really make me believe I belong to an offshoot DNA strand of homo sapien that's just utterly disconnected.

It is a hopelessly Christian film, but not Christian is an inspiring way, like Midnight Clear or Come to the Stable - Instead it's Christian in a cloying, exclusionary way, all images of little girls dressed in white who are supposed to be angels, complete with fluffy wings glued to their backs. The central message is, "Being Christian is the happy pill that absolves you of all responsibility for practical matters, AND makes you special and better than everyone else too."

Let's take this thing apart.  Our hero is finishing up his first struggling year in business. His wife does not work, but stays home to care for their daughter. This makes her so "stressed" that she blames all their problems on her husband.  When the family moves in with the Wicked Witch, the wife immediately bonds with her and feels warm and happy, while the husband is unable to sleep, suffers nervous anxiety, and begins hearing strange noises in the night.

At this point it goes schizo and tries to become a half decent horror movie - The old lady is creepy and treats the husband with contempt, he can't sleep due to the rattling radiator pipes, weird things start happening, he suffers from repeating dreams, and he is continually being drawn to the spooky attic because every time he is alone, he hears an attic music box playing. Unfortunately, instead of proceeding to the, "GET OUT" stage, he just gets more and more frazzled. Seems he's working like mad to get his business on solid ground, and can't spend as much time with his family as he'd want to. He even commits the unpardonable sin of missing his daughter's play. Despite the fact that their stay in Hell House is wearing him out and making him screw up at work, his wife loves it there and has zero sympathy - Instead, she whines at every possible moment about how he isn't taking off work to spend enough quality time with the family. The old lady bangs on about this too, in between delivering imperious commentary on his lack of religious knowledge and promising his daughter he'll do various things with her without consulting him regarding his schedule first.

I will admit total bias here. I KNOW how hard it is to get a business up and going. I know what it's like to have no choice about working seven day weeks and that there are way too many times you want to go relax with your wife, but instead have to sit up doing work. So, I could completely sympathize with the husband. His wife and the old lady, however, looked on this all with the sulky incomprehension of those who have always had money, either by being born into it or by having someone else hand them a paycheck all their life. Alas, the entire movie is slanted such that the "problem" of the movie is that the husband isn't spending enough time with his family, never mind that he's not a wealthy heiress living in an inherited mansion like the crotchety old bat, and forget that all his work is going towards getting them a home of their own OUT of the Overlook.  No, this is everything that Occupy Wall Street is about, in a nutshell - The rich 1%er who believes she has every right to judge the struggling 99%ers, despite never having had to worry about a bill in her life.

Because of this, every time Richard is treated like dirt (often) for being late to his daughter's recital due to work pressure, let's just say my sentiments were not with the wife.... In fact, by the end of the film I was hoping he'd go all Jack Torrance on everyone in sight. The wife thinks it's really neato keen that he keeps having recurring dreams of angels; commentary that always seemed ready to be followed by, "OK, I'm off to my crystal healing class now, have fun at that dreary job, dear."

Eventually they find out that the old bat had a child who died young, and her husband left her. This broken family history is why she's so eager to force the current family into being a warm and cuddly family unit, mainly by berating and harassing the husband to work less... because everyone knows that what a new and struggling business needs most is for its owner to start randomly taking off and showing up late and blowing off appointments. There is some further stuff about the first gift of Christmas being baby Jesus, twinkly fairy lights, angelic children appearing in hospital rooms and so on, but by the end of the movie Emily and I were both so annoyed and pissed off that I'm not even sure what the point was.  No, wait, I got exactly what the point was - Wealthy Christian white people have the innate right to judge others and tell them how they should live their lives, and if you argue with this viewpoint you are a Bad Person who must be corrected.  I won't even get into comparing the "epic tragedy" of Nurse Ratched's lost child to the millions of poor people out there suffering from broken families,  other than to say that it's too bad she ended up a lonely old crone but gee, having a million dollars in the bank probably helps soften the pain a little compared to a single mom trying to scrape by on minimum wage.

Better Christian movies can get across a religious message without mentioning religion, by illustrating how powerful hope and kindness can be. Christmas Box presents religion as a "Get out of hell free" card - You can be a cruel, conniving, vicious bitch but as long as you believe in baby Jebus, the angels will come for you. And trying to support your family by making sure they have groceries and shelter is wrong - "Real" support means blowing off your business responsibilities and spending all your time with them, starving together in a cardboard box somewhere.  (I once heard a TV preacher talking about how he counseled the low income people in his church on their budgets, and always told them to put GOD at the top of their budget, and to give money to the church first, before they paid their bills.  I was left stunned that people did not revolt and drag him screaming off the stage, but then again, some people thought Gordon Gecko was a hero, too...)

All in all, it had a horrible message about responsibility towards family, enough gag-inducing Hallmark moments to put down a rhino, a twisted theme that it's OK for wealthy religious people to lecture the poor on how they live their lives, and the worst angels I have ever seen.

This movie was not just bad, it actively pissed me off and made me want to hit it. It has no redeeming qualities, IMO - Avoid like the plague.  

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