​Holi-dazed

The Elf has an exciting premise but falls far short
By Isaac Thorne

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The pantheon of great live-action holiday-themed films has dramatically expanded over the decades. There was a time when Christmas revelers sat, year-after-year, in front of a 4:3-ratio run of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, and that was pretty much it. If you weren’t interested in celebrating the warmth of the holiday season, you were frankly left out in the cold. Then along came holiday centered action, comedies, and even horror: A Christmas Story, Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Die Hard…the list only grows longer every year. These less-than-spiritual season entertainments have become for some of us as go-to as either of the older black-and-white classics.

It would be easy to say that Pikchure Zero Entertainment’s The Elf (2017) has some significant Santa boots to fill regarding what has come before it, and is disappointing for that reason. But that is just not the case. The Elf focuses on a man named Nick (Gabriel Miller) and his fiancée Victoria (Natassia Halabi). Nick, who suffers from night terrors as a result of a murder he witnessed when he was young, inherits an old toy shop. Inside the toy shop, Nick finds an elf doll and a "naughty list" that contains the names of his family. It turns out that the elf doll and the list are intended to unleash a demonic killing spree with Nick at its core.

Part Child’s Play and part Silent Night, Deadly Night, The Elf struggles to define its story and pace itself interestingly. None of the dialogue is realistic, and most of it feels phoned in by the actors. They regularly fail to change their facial expressions when addressing each other. It is as if they don't understand what they're saying or what they're supposed to be feeling. The exposition delivered through dialogue (and that is most of it) is often lengthy and overwrought. For example, when Nick or Victoria attempt to explain a plot point to another character, such as Victoria's friend Sky (Amy Jo Guthrie), the other character's initial response is almost always "wait, what?" Naturally, this causes the primary character to repeat what's already been said in a slightly different way but adds absolutely nothing that advances the story. Thus the nearly two-hour runtime of this film feels padded.

In addition to the acting problems, there are many plot holes in the script and many things that feel tacked on merely to ensure that the doll's victims are stranded. One character who discovers that murders are occurring has access to a phone and tells Victoria’s friend Sky instead of calling 911. Sky never calls 911 either, and seems uninterested in the conversation between asking “wait, what?” Earlier in the movie, when Nick has his first meltdown, he demands he and Victoria pack up and leave the place they're staying. Victoria tries to calm him down and tells him they can't leave because there's a big storm on the way. The storm is not even hinted at anywhere before this line. The film opens with the couple in a car, which one assumes has a radio. The car scene would have been a perfect place to hear a weather broadcast that sets up the storm for the payoff when Nick wants to leave.There are some good things about The Elf. The cinematography looks professional. The CGI effects and the doll itself aren’t terrible. I’ve seen worse in major Hollywood motion pictures. However, those points are not enough to salvage this film as something to return to each year when the Christmas season rolls around.