Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tribeca ’11: Saint

In Holland, Santa is not the same jolly old elf. He has his menacing “Black Peter” sidekicks, who are supposedly from Spain, but hardly seem politically correct. Every thirty-two years, Sinterklaas also perpetrates a massacre on the eve of his Saint’s day (December 6th). This December 5th, Amsterdam is due for one of those nights in Dick Maas’s Saint (trailer here), which screens as a Cinemania selection during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

It all goes back to 1500, when a band of Dutch villagers rose up against a marauding bishop and his henchmen. A bit of frontier justice, a curse, and five hundred-some years later, Frank is dumped by his girlfriend in spectacularly public fashion. However, this hardly discourages the horny high schooler. He was surreptitiously seeing her best friend behind her back anyway. Even if she is not quite ready to go public, this is December 5th. Every year he hits the party scene hard as Sinterklaas with his running mates decked out as Black Peters. Unfortunately, someone dressed in red robes and a miter has been killing kids throughout the city. Guess who fits that description. With the help of Goert, a bitter cop obsessed with the killer cleric, Frank sets out to break the cycle of terror and clear his name.

Saint understand how and when to go over the top effectively. Never excessively gruesome, it has the subversive sensibility promised but not delivered by Jalmari Helandar’s Rare Exports. The phantasmagorical special effects are also quite credible and the cinematography of Guido van Gennep (whose credits include the artfully sensitive Winter in Wartime) is appropriately eerie. Still, despite the quality production values and restrained wry humor, Saint is a good old-fashioned dead teenager horror movie at heart.

The youthful-enough-to-pass-for-teenaged cast is at least adequate to the task, but Bert Luppes is pitch-perfect as the ridiculously hard-bitten Goert. Of course, this is not a film for subtly shaded emotional nuance, but at least everyone is clearly in the proper holiday spirit.

Given a fair number of jokes involving sexual aides, Saint is definitely not for children. That ought to go without saying for a film about a demonic slasher Santa Claus, but these days, you never know with folks. Those who enjoy a raucous little horror film will find Saint has pretty much everything they need. Recommended for cult audiences, it is an entertaining way to start the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, when it screens this Thursday (4/21), Saturday (4/23), Sunday (4/24) and Wednesday (4/27).