The best holiday horror films pervert the icons of happiness involved in the holiday it depicts. When it comes to Christmas horror movies, that icon is usually Santa Claus. The Elf (2017) takes on a holiday icon a more subtle holiday icon that, when you think about it, is generally creepy: the elf on the shelf.
The plot of The Elf (2017) is as dark and foreboding as you could expect from a movie about an elf doll that is supposed to watch you and report its findings back to Santa every night. Nick (played Gabriel Miller) is haunted by night terrors stemming from a tragic murder he saw when he was young. After inheriting an old toy shop, he discovers a cursed elf doll sealed inside an ancient chest with a naughty list of his family’s names written on it. He soon discovers that the elf was an evil conduit meant to unleash a supernatural killing spree during the Christmas Holidays by whomever set it free. Unfortunately, Nick’s fiancée Victoria (played by Natassia Halabi) has decided to throw Nick a surprise Christmas Eve party with her family, so the killer elf has its pickings of victims.
The film is at its best when it depicts the elf physically. The Elf (2017) reminds me of the early Full Moon Puppet Master films, using different puppet heads to show emotion. It’s basic, but creepy at the same time. The CGI effects, unfortunately, don’t hit quite as hard. They aren’t the worst effects to create a monster, but the physical effects of the elf are so much better that every moment the elf becomes a CGI animation, it falls flat.
Much like the effects, the story also suffers for trying to give us too much. The opening scene with the toymaker is probably the most foreboding point of the film. You want to learn more about what he is doing, and you do, but it is over-saturated with a splintered plot that gives you glimpses of what the film could be, and ends up lacking with everything. We have townspeople going mental, a family bloodline shrouded in mystery, a possible elf attack when Nick was young, a family breaking up a marriage… it just seems like the film would have been better off more focused. This is a killer elf on the shelf we’re talking about. Let the monster do its thing.
The Elf (2017) arrives November 7 on VOD and December 12 on DVD.