Screened as part of NZIFF 2003
The only escape from the nightmare of Christmas in writer/director Gregory King’s toxic assault on family togetherness is the bathroom. It’s where all the real drama happens, and the real drama in Christmas is solitary. It is not something you share with the family. Maori Dad, Pakeha Mum, four adult kids, two grandkids: there’s someone camped in every tiny room of a Whangerai bungalow for the festive season. Eldest son Keri has arrived back unannounced from a trip overseas. He’s a lonely, awkward guy with a shaven head and a ring through his nose. You’ve seen him on the street a million times, but you’ve never seen him in a movie before. You can see that he’s not well and he’s forever sloping off to the bathroom. Someone is harassing him for money.
Eldest daughter Megan is living in the basement with her two children and her alcoholic boyfriend Brett, the father of one child and tormenter of the other. The other daughter Donna has locked herself up in her childhood bedroom with the teddies. She emerges at mealtimes to pick at her food. Young Richard is the party boy of the family, a regular ‘bro’ who also happens to be gay, though you need to be able to see what’s getting him off in the bathroom to know that. Meanwhile Dad obsesses on his new car and runs over the family cat which he buries furtively. The kids sneak cakes and booze into the bush and Mum sneaks a few sobs while she does the dishes.
King follows his provocative short films with provocation on a grander scale, exhibiting these furtive, frenzied moments of solitude with the inflammatory zeal of exposé. There are secrets and lies alright, but this is no Mike Leigh movie. King denies the therapeutic impulse of family drama just as his family members deny themselves any public expression of their grisly, intensely private hells. No one ever talks about anything of personal significance except in sudden brutal lunges of hostility or bitter humour. There is much boozing and dope smoking, but no one is celebrating. Filmed on DV with a minuscule budget in the house where King himself grew up, Christmas lacks the formal refinement of his short films, but even the dud moments in the performances contribute suitable dissonance to the excruciating fiesta of avoidance. This singular, bleakly funny, R-rated vision of Kiwi life clinches King’s position as the most distinctive new voice in NZ film, as insistent and inescapable as the Warehouse jingle. — BG