The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
I love Christmas movies! No, not those really bad Hallmark ones, but the classics! Home Alone, A Christmas Story, Krampus, Die Hard (it's a Christmas movie dammit!), and Christmas Vacation are all annual watches in my household. For me, a great Christmas movie needs to embrace the holiday but not be completely overshadowed by it.
Example: Die Hard takes place during Christmas and the Nakatomi Plaza is covered in Christmas decor, but it's still an action movie.
I couldn't think of any better comparison to make than Die Hard when talking about Fatman. A movie about a gun-toting Santa Claus (Mel Gibson) who has to fight off a trained assassin (Walton Goggins) who was hired to kill him. A beautiful premise that has a ton of potential. Is it a new holiday classic? Or another crappy Christmas movie to add to the pile we get every year? Let's talk about it.
With a premise as wild as this, you'd have to have a director (or directors in this case) that can blend these two genres of film in a way that doesn't feel tonally off. Unfortunately, Eshom and Ian Nelms don't quite nail it, but they get very, very close. The tonal shifts are at first pretty jarring and a little too over the top with Walton Goggins playing The Skinny Man who's a hitman that has an obsession with Chris Cringle (Gibson). This obsession plays out in a mostly goofy fashion, but luckily Goggins is very believable in the role so these scenes don’t completely ruin the story. Juxtaposing these scenes are scenes of old Cringle fighting to save his toy-making business, and these are much more somber and reflective which really comes off odd whenever they immediately follow a silly scene prior.
These tones don't mesh well until further along in the movie when the elves show up and the Santa storyline gets a tad bit more silly. Another problem I had was the lack of action. I enjoyed that it focused more on Cringle's life and the struggles of making toys and delivering them, but the movie was sold as an action film and there really isn't a ton until the end of the movie. When it does get to the action, it's over in what felt like a blink of an eye. I enjoyed the action we got, I just wish we had more of that and less awkward tonal shifts that took me out of the story. That being said, the Nelms Brothers do a good job of pacing the movie out and not having it feel too silly or too serious. Not great, but solid enough for me to still enjoy my time.
For a movie that was sold as Hitman vs. Santa Claus, there isn't a ton of the versus part that you'd expect. It's more of a build-up with our hitman's journey of tracking and finding Santa taking up more time than him actually attempting to kill him. The journey, while having some tonal problems, is a lot of fun and gets by on the likable performances and the handful of very funny scenes involving Walton Goggins' Skinny Man. Like I said above, I very much enjoyed that business side of Santa Claus which was a huge surprise.
Seeing Cringle struggle to fund another Christmas and having to force his elves to do commission work for the military is both hilarious and sad in concept and execution. It's just a shame you get severe whiplash from how serious a scene can be and then immediately an over the top one happens right after. It's also a shame that it takes a really long time to get to the point and doesn't have a very satisfying conclusion. Still, a solidly told Christmas tale that ranks with some of the best in the "Weird Christmas Stories" genre… which is a genre I just made up by the way.
FATMAN Fits Both The Action And Christmas Genres Well
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Gibson and Goggins are the major highlights, with Gibson giving us a very understated and warm performance as a tired and world-weary Saint Nick, which is certainly a unique portrayal of the character. Goggins hams it up, and while his scenes might end up being a detriment to the tone, I found him to be very, very entertaining in the role of a psychopathic and obsessive hitman who has his sights on Cringle. I also found his lack of morals to be refreshing considering how many movies we see that feature a hitman in a lead role where they have some sort of code to follow. Not this character. He'll kill people just for disagreeing with him. I liked this quite a bit. A straight to the point, no holds barred villain.
The supporting cast is also great with Chance Hurstfield as Billy Wenan who plays a rich kid that hires The Skinny Man to kill Cringle for receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. Hurstfield does a terrific job of selling his character as a kid with too much power but is still very vulnerable. He's also not as much of a mustache-twirling villain as the trailer made him seem. Still a little bastard but a little more subdued than I was expecting. The other highlight in the cast is Marianne Jean-Baptiste who plays Mrs. Cringle and is very sweet in the role. She's very supportive of her husband and a joy to watch, especially together with Gibson.
Overall, I have nothing bad to say about the cast. While some of their characters can be a little underdeveloped or cartoonish, they all do a great job. I do wish the elves had a bit more to do but I appreciated them being there at all.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
A nice combination of Christmas music mixed with a typical action movie score. Composed by The Mondo Boys (who also composed the music for the terrific The Mortuary Collection from last month), the score really fits well with the movie and even manages to make the tonal shifts feel not as jarring sometimes. It’s subtle enough to not be too distracting and enhances the movie's big action scene towards the end. Great stuff!
Very little in terms of special effects. You can tell the movie was made on a small budget because we never see Cringle in a sleigh in the sky or anything like that. It's way more grounded than I thought it would be when it comes to all the Santa stuff. I liked the snowy environments, and some of the cinematography was really nice. My only problem is the settings themselves don't feel Christmas-y enough for my taste. Snow is nice, but I wanted a little more than just that and we don't get it. Also, the elves’ shortening "effect" was pretty lousy. A lot of closeups of the actors not showing their bottom halves is all it is, which is why I put quotes around "effect" because they could've done a bit more with them to make me believe they were elves.
While having plenty of awkward tonal shifts in the first half and a disappointing conclusion in the second, Fatman makes its odd premise work with the help of a game cast, a heartfelt story, funny moments, and a great score that fits both the action and Christmas genres well. It's not perfect, but I had a very good time watching this odd Christmas film. It's certainly up there with Rare Exports and Krampus when it comes to Christmas films with a bit more edge.