A Viewing Experience | Holidays

This summer I’ve stumbled upon many horror movies while scrolling through my Netflix account. Having taken most of the summer off from teaching to pursue professional development projects and attend to other life concerns I’ve found myself with more time to step away from the machinations of collegiate academia to indulge in extracurricular activities, some of which have just been plain old fun. As a result, I’ve spent a lot more time with my Netflix account than I have during the fall, winter, and spring months.

I am unsure why horror movies have been aggregated through Netflix’s algorithms to become so predominate in their suggestions of content I might enjoy. I am not actually a mega fan of horror movies, but I am no stranger to the genre and I’ve sat through enough of them in the early 1980s and 1990’s to appreciate the role they play in a person’s cinematic catalogue of films viewed. And, I’ve certainly made them an occasional part of my current viewing experiences on Netflix. I even count select horror films as being significant influences on my own creative works of art. This being said, I’ve watch enough other genres to still question the deluge of horror films that are pushed into my suggested viewing. This phenomenon began prior to my absolute obsession with Stranger Things. Regardless, I’d taken the bait and started to explore the content.

Most of the horror titles I am initially unfamiliar with but some peak my interest based on the brief synopsis provided. I have selected and started viewing many of these films only to abandon them twenty minutes or so into viewing because I cannot connect with the material. Often times the dramatic structure is too familiar reveling in content that is too recognizable in order to provide a fresh experience. Or, the film is unsuccessful in its execution in setting up the necessary mechanism of a dramatic question(s) that causes me concern and coerces me (on a sliding scale of intensity) to continue watching. There are a lot of clichés and tropes out there. I believe I have a strong enough familiarity with these to recognize them when they appear. I do have to wonder though if we don’t need those in some way to sustain the genre. This being said I am not expecting a paradigm shift in storytelling when I begin watching these films, but I do hope for something more unique than I’ve seen before. I, however, I am only able to speak from my experience and would not suggest I have the film school pedigree to pontificate too long on such matters. It should also be noted I am self-aware enough to acknowledge that my spelunking into these films has now created even more reason for Netflix to make me aware of their horror offerings.

I won’t spend time listing the various jump-scare, found-footage, torture-porn, supernatural, and boogey-man musings of the films I’ve explored to date. I will say the few films that have held my interest have been films that didn’t take my empathy for granted. That is a challenge from someone who rebukes melodrama in most of its forms.

However, something happened which I don’t think I can explain. I watched the movie Holidays, an anthology feature film that puts a uniquely dark and original spin on some of the most iconic and beloved holidays of all time by challenging our folklore, traditions and assumptions.* This was one of the movies I was contemplating giving up on. However, being an anthology film and sitting through the first few episodes I felt things slowly improving and I was intrigued just enough to keep watching. There was also the carrot of a Kevin Smith filmed segment; I have remained an unapologetic and biased fan of most of his work. The segment for Father’s Day written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns, and starring Jocelin Donahue, and amazing voice-over work by Michael Gross, however, affected me in the most profound way.

I am going to keep my focus on the Father’s Day segment and will not provide experience commentary on each of the segments in the film, including Kevin Smith’s Halloween segment, I’d like to concentrate on this one segment because, for lack of better language, it moved me. I will not speak directly of the storyline or subject matter, but only of the reasons for why it inspired me enough to write this experience article.

Anthony Scott Burns tapped into something very human to craft a brief tale of childhood loss, paternal strife, and the rationalization humans participate in when they feel they need to protect someone or hide a painful truth. He understands how grief, while it may evolve and change within us, always remains in some form ever present. He understands loneliness is more than a feeling and the prospect of filling an emotional void through the promises of a voice from our past induces us with hope.

The mood and locations framed in the cinematography (I believe we are at the Salton Sea for most of the piece) reinforced these themes in all too brief of a segment which also juxtaposed enough imagery of a celestial nature that allows the viewer to surmise what forces may be at work, but not enough for us to have a definitive context. This is a strength.

Jocelin Donahue provides a performance that renders enough vulnerability to make us feel emotionally grounded in a reality that is unacquainted with the fantastical. She does this without sacrificing her character’s determination to undertake the journey of emotional memory that lays before her.

Michael Gross’s voice, present in the piece as a recording, will resonate with viewers of a certain age as the father from 1980’s sitcom, Family Ties. Perhaps, its that familiarity that provided the authority and sincerity which manifested during the narrative. There was an immediate sense of trust and earnestness.

The proverbial formula for a well executed piece of horror, tropes or not, seems to be intact here. The piece had enough uniqueness and drew enough empathy that I actually had to stop the film at the segment’s conclusion and contemplate what I had seen and why I felt the way I did. I had a lot of questions, but I knew the answers were not important.

This happens rarely for me.

In preparing to write for this experience article I poked around on the interwebs for a bit to see what other material on this particular segment might be out there. Much of the forum chatter I’ve read regarding this segment has hit upon what could be its shortcomings, and if I removed my subjectivity I might even be able to get on board with some of those analyses. I could even identify pretty clearer with what other observers were saying. Ultimately, I have chosen to ignore those because I feel as if the point may have been missed. This story doesn’t find its dénouement in the supernatural, but rather in analogy. This is a brief exploration in the love of a father for his daughter and the love of a daughter for her father. Its an exploration into familial schisms and the prisms through which we see and seek truth as unthinkable as it might be.

The supernatural ending will leave many scratching their heads, but again, for a short piece of horror that’s ability to tug on the heart strings was so hard-wearing I’d recommend embracing the humanity of the piece and judging it on those merits.

You can currently stream holidays on Netflix or view it on other digital mediums. I’d recommend the whole film, honestly. It’s ability to captivate will wax and wane, but there are some standout moments in each of the segments worthy of viewing.

Kevin Smith did not disappoint.

Until next time I bid thee love and merriment.

* Boilerplate paraphrased from IMBD

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