Nutcracker Massacre

Dec 11, 2022 | Posted by in Movies
Nutcracker Massacre

A novelist must survive the rampage of a festive mannequin come to life in Rebecca Matthews’ Nutcracker Massacre.

Christmas horror movies are a peculiar subgenre, juxtaposing festive decor and wintry imagery with blood, suffering and death. They can be quite hit and miss in how well they pull it off – for every Black Christmas there’s a Santa Claws – but Nutcracker Massacre manages to stand above the average.

Nutcracker Massacre

Festive greetings

The story follows romance writer Clara (Beatrice Fletcher), newly single after her boyfriend Paul (Andy Dixon) cheated on her, and intends to clear her head by spending the holidays with her beloved aunt Marie (Julie Stevens). The only problem is the six-foot Nutcracker statue adorning Marie’s home, and before long the wooden soldier comes to life with a mission to take out anyone who gets in his way.

It’s semi-accepted wisdom that while audiences might watch horror movies for their preponderance of blood and guts, crafting a story with characters you care about is what actually makes them compelling, and it’s in taking this to heart that Nutcracker Massacre partially sets itself apart. It’s such a slow burn that if you missed the film’s title and opening few minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled across some anonymous holiday melodrama. That’s not meant to be detrimental, but rather acknowledging that the time taken to appreciate who Clara is allows us to care about what she’s going through and subsequently makes her far more sympathetic as a heroine.

The rest of the imperilled individuals include the likes of the forementioned Marie, more like a mother to Clara than an aunt, her bitchy and selfish cousin Mousy (May Kelly), and Paul attempting to prove his loyalty despite his infidelity. Most notable is the profoundly odd toymaker Dmitri (Patrick Bergin). While he presents an air of a charming and kindly old man, he seems to have ambiguous motivations for everything he does and says, and you’re never quite sure whether or not he is to be completely trusted. Even when he first appears you get the impression he knows more than he’s letting on, and at one point is even seen literally twirling his moustache like a pantomime villain. Enough character work is done for each of them to make us hope for their safety or wish for their deaths as required, and even though you’ll likely predict the order in which each will meet their maker they each serve a purpose to the brief narrative to justify their presence.

Nutcracker Massacre

I don’t remember ballet dancers doing this

Unfortunately, the film gets so focused on character interaction that it forgets to intensify the sense of danger as the story progresses. While periodic peripheral deaths keep the audience’s bloodlust satiated while the main characters remain oblivious to the truth, the scale of the violence never truly escalates, leaving you wondering when exactly it’s going to kick things up a gear. This causes the tone to oscillate between various individuals’ fear of death and everyone else’s confusion about what’s actually going on, with the two never marrying up until the climax, at which point it’s too late to properly enjoy. When a film has barely fifteen minutes to go and its characters are still arguing over the mystery, the pacing leaves a lot to be desired.

That said, when the scares actually do come they are imaginatively realised. Each death lines up with the yuletide theme, featuring the likes of an icicle shank, a tinsel garrotte, an ice skate axe, and even a deliciously warped variation on the film’s very title, all calling to mind similar festive weaponry used in the gloriously demented comedy horror Santa’s Slay. The nutcracker itself has two forms, one a creepy and emotionless visage that stares unblinking as though judging the contents of your soul, and the other a ravenous shark-toothed monstrosity about to find out what it tastes like. Several shots play with light and shadow to keep the presence of a large and distinctive killer partially hidden, and the soldier’s ability to seemingly move around unseen adds a further facet to the seemingly unstoppable force.

Although a film like this could have got away with its basic premise of a living statue going on a kill spree the title isn’t just for show, but also incorporates a twisted reimagining of the basic ideas in the original 19th century novella, and has clearly thought a great deal about the invented lore behind its tale of terror. Likewise, the film is permeated by sinister renditions of music from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, in particular “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “March of the Toy Soldiers,” maintaining an atmosphere of dread that the action never quite lives up to. Even Clara’s career as a novelist isn’t used in the typical way of merely providing a protagonist a job with irregular responsibilities, but instead utilises it to allow her an understanding of the power of stories and how perception of reality can be manipulated by invoking them, suggesting that she was the one meant to be at the centre of this timeless force of destruction and the only one who could truly face it.

Nutcracker Massacre

The face of the monster


Verdict

Nutcracker Massacre is an admirable effort to craft a festive horror with limited resources and manages to do quite a bit with very little. Low-budget horror movies live or die by their creativity and while strong character work and inventive themed deaths keep things interesting, the film lacks the intensity it needs to stand out, while its inability to escalate the prevailing sense of fear leaves it merely serviceable when it could have been truly special.

Overall
  • Nutcracker Massacre
3

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • the focus on character development
  • inventive deaths with festive themes
  • the nutcracker’s monstrous form
  • sinister renditions of the ballet’s music

 

Rise Against…

  • the intensity of the horror never truly increasing in scale
  • the featured action never living up to the atmosphere of dread
  • the climax coming too late and being over too quickly

 

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