Review: Saint (15) / Directed by: Dick Maas / Written by: Dick Maas / Starring: Huub Stapel, Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen, Escha Tanihatu, Madelief Blanken, Bert Luppes / Released: Out Now
The Saw films are over, Jeepers Creepers 3 is nowhere to be found and there will not be a My Bloody Valentine 2. So we need a new horror maniac bogeyman for this decade and if the Dutch have their way it’s going to be no less that St Nicholas/Father Christmas himself. Taking its lead from last years Rare Exports, Saint takes the dark Christmas story and runs with it into a full blown slasher movie complete with nubile young teenagers and a Captain Ahab/Dr Loomis type figure. I’m happy to report that Saint is a whole heap of fun and far more accomplished and exciting than 99% of the current horror output from the rest of the world. Directed, Written, Produced and scored by one Dick Maas who has been making films in Holland for a while but may well be a big name one day still if he keeps this up.
We begin our story in seventeenth century Holland with a rogue bishop and his pirate minions attacking a village and murdering the inhabitants by climbing down their chimneys and kidnapping the children. Eventually the bishop is cornered and burned to death. We then pick up in 1960s Holland and a country house where on December 5th during a full moon, something arrives and slaughters the entire family except for one boy. Then we find ourselves in modern day Amsterdam and we meet several university students on December 5th as they prepare to celebrate the feast of St Nicholas. Gifts are exchanged, we learn that there is kind of a love triangle type situation going on with Frank and two of the female students and people prepare for parties by dressing up as St Nick himself and his minion Zwart Pietr. During this time, police detective Goert is convinced that every 36 years on the full moon the undead St Nicholas will arrive and wreak havoc on the city. His colleagues however believe he is overworked and simply stressed out. Then one of the teenagers is brutally murdered and her ex boyfriend Frank comes face to face with St Nicholas as he kills his friends and Frank is blamed for the crime. This brings Frank into contact with Goert who is the only person who believes his wild story. The two of them must stop the evil armies’ rampage across the rooftops of Amsterdam before it’s too late.
The thing I liked most about Saint is the way that it evokes early John Carpenter and specifically the films The Fog and Halloween. There are some great scenes later in the film with a thick mist along the canals which hides the evil goings on from the world at large. They have taken the Amsterdam canals inherent creepiness and really used it to their advantage. Ghoulish pirates popping out of the mist to stab people never gets boring. It’s unusual to see a film set in Amsterdam which is more notorious for other reasons and actually have it be about something other than sordid goings on or stoner humour. Having said that, despite being not really that far away it may as well be another world. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the films opening twenty minutes where we get a taste of what I assume is typical Dutch teenage culture where students give each other a series of presents (mostly sex toys) on December 5th as their teacher looks on. Somehow I think we would never see this in a horror film set in California. The differences in culture become even more obvious when students ‘blacken up’ to play Zwart Pietr (Black Peter) before going to a party. In another film this would be seen as a blatantly racist and politically incorrect thing to do but alas this is Amsterdam and their ways are not our ways. The early scenes of the teenagers walking home and discussing their complex love lives evokes the early scenes in Carpenter’s Halloween as does Detective Goert’s personal vendetta and belief in the existence of the evil St Nick. Much like how Rare Exports homaged The Thing, these scenes in Saint never feel like a blatant rip off as the whole film is made with a lot of love, skill and care.
Another thing that surprised me about this film is how well mounted and staged a production it actually is. I honestly expected to never really see the killer, due to being a lower budget Dutch film, but instead there are epic action scenes with full views of the impressively made up monsters. One scene in particular has St Nick riding a horse across the rooftops of Amsterdam as the police give chase on the road below firing a gun at the evil ghoul. Apart from some obvious CG work this scene is as impressive as anything I have seen this year in a Hollywood production. The film also doesn’t skimp on the gore factor. Limbs are lopped off, heads are decapitated and blood sprays all over the place. It works because it’s all so well paced with just the right amount of build up before a set piece often climaxing in something impressive like a horse crashing into a police car and then getting up and walking away. The film is tremendous fun throughout and has a suitably explosive climax.
The slight drawback to Saint is the problems with its script. It may well start off homaging Halloween with its attractive teen cast and the film does a lot of good character work when they are introduced. As soon as the action picks up though these characters are forgotten about to concentrate on Detective Goet and the explosions and maimings. One female character starts the movie off as essentially the lead and then becomes just a voice on the end of the phone as the film becomes more concerned with Frank. If they could have somehow gotten the female lead more involved in the climax it would have gone a long way towards addressing the jarring oddness of the sudden shift in focus.
Dick Maas has created a great dark Christmas movie which I may well like more than Rare Exports one day. If like me you try and make time to enjoy the darker Christmas movies in the lead up to the big day, try and add Saint to that list. You won’t regret it.