As Thanksgiving took it’s last gasp, I knew that the biggest holiday of all was right around the corner! No, not the one where a jolly old fat man gives gifts to the good little boys and girls around the world - I'm talking about the one where Thomas Bryce of Shit Movie Fest gathers the best of the best for his SHITMAS extravaganza!
Last year, I fired up the Wayback Machine and took a journey to 1999 for a review of 'go’, which in all honesty, was a decent way to usher in the holidays. With so many films already reviewed by very talented folks from around the nation, it gets a little more difficult each year to find the right pick to pique my interest. In fact, my quest to find a flick for this year’s event began as early as July, but it wasn’t until October when I came up with a plan on how to approach this beast. Along the way, as I am sure many writers for Shitmas have experienced, I would come up with idea for a flick to review, only to find it had been done in the past. My frustration lead me to proclaim 2016 as the year of something new! It was mid-October when got tipped off to one of DarkSkyFilms’ upcoming releases — 'Uncle Nick’. Starring standup comic Brian Posehn (Mr. Show, The Sarah Silverman Program), the cover art featured Posehn horizontal with the floor (while still in the seated position), decked out in a ugly Christmas sweater and a wild grin, spanning from ear to ear. Most importantly, it featured a drop quote from some blogger, declaring the flick as “The most enjoyable anti-Christmas movie since Bad Santa.” At this point, I’m thinking, “Bingo, baby! We have a winner here!”
Just days before Thanksgiving, I found myself in desperate need of a jump start for my holiday cheer, so without further delay, I poured a tall glass of expertly spiked egg nog and prepared to let the holiday spirit flow through me in one way or another. As many of you know, Dark Sky typically tackles horror releases, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film. I mean, with a tagline like “Nothing ruins Christmas like family,” I could easily see this thing playing out a few different ways. Adding to my confusion about the film was the fact that it's presented by noted documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris, but what is the holiday season without a few surprises? Am I right?
The film takes place the night before Christmas in Cleveland, Ohio. We are quickly brought up to speed on The Mistake On The Lake’s history in the opening scene, which certainly casts a long shadow on the journey we are about to take with the characters. Brian Posehn plays the titular character, Nick, who we first meet on his couch in nothing but his boxers, beer bottles strewn about, and porn playing on his laptop. A bottle of lube sits within arms reach. That’s quite an introduction. Nick is an overweight, balding, drunken, not-so-loveable loser, who doesn’t have much going on for him accept for the fact he manages to keep his late father's landscaping business afloat. At first it seems his plans for the evening are limited to begrudgingly celebrate the holiday at the home shared by his younger airheaded brother, Cody (Beau Ballinger), Cody's cougar trophy wife, Sophie (Paget Brewster), and her two children from a previous marriage. However, we soon discover Nick's real motivation for the evening out is to properly liquor up and have sex with Sophie's "barely legal daughter" (his words not mine), Valerie (Melia Renee). Clearly, it doesn’t take long for you to realize we are headed for dark territory, pardon the Steven Seagal pun.
Polar opposites in appearance and attitude, Nick and Cody are seemingly cut from totally different cloths. Their never-ending sibling rivalry is what ultimately leads to the family’s unraveling over the course of the evening. The growing tension of the evening in “Uncle Nick” unfolds chapter by chapter, or inning by inning in this case as Nick recounts the famed events of June 4, 1974, when the Cleveland Indians’ decision to host a promotional 10-cent beer night resulted in a legendary night of drunken fans rioting in the stands and on the field. The black and white vignettes recapping the game only add to doom-laden atmosphere. Through a series of racy interludes we are quickly led to believe that Nick might actually have a shot with his niece, who quickly draws him in with a few seductive lines (and a text that reads, “I love to suck cock,” of course). Sophie easily convinces Nick to send her a sext, which leads us to an uncomfortable encounter with Posehn’s war-torn penis. As the night draws on, the liquor flows and the tension mounts. We’re also introduced to Nick’s sister, Michelle (Missy Pyle) and brother-in-law Kevin (Scott Adsit), who is the host of a seemingly lame Indians-related podcast called “Band The Drum.” As family gathers around the dinner table we learn of the death of Nick's girlfriend, years earlier, and clearly see the toll it has taken on him. At this point, you are really wondering where the comedy element of the dark comedy has decided to spend the holidays. Without revealing too much about the film’s ending, we realize that Cody might be just as big a degenerate as Uncle Nick, as the family is ripped apart at every level. It was at this point in the screening that I realized that ‘Uncle Nick' is the type of holiday outing that might push a lesser man, who may be experiencing a black cloud reigning over his holiday season, to put a shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger for a truly memorable hall decking.
The saving grace of this holiday tale was certainly the family’s dysfunctional take on the White Elephant Christmas gift exchange. If you have been to any holiday party in the past decade, you know there is always at least one broad hellbent on trying to ruin what is meant to be one of the highlights of the event by adding in a twist or an element of holiday highway robbery. In 'Uncle Nick’, we learn the rules of The Wilkins Family variation of the game. For this version you are going to need a timer, a set of dice, and an air horn. The game is played in two cutthroat rounds. To quote the film, “You start with a pile of gifts. Cheap stuff, nothing expensive. If you role a 7 or 11, you get to take one of the presents from the pile — shaking is permitted. You go around the room until every present is off the table. Round 2 is where things get ugly. You set a timer for 10 minutes. If you roll a 7 or 11, you get to take a present from someone else’s pile. Airhorns add tension to sudden death. Participants can gang up on others to take everything they have during this round. When the timer rings, the game is over. That’s how you play White Elephant. White Elephant is a horrible game! It’s all about jealousy and greed. Do feelings get hurt? Yeah. It kind of makes it perfect for Christmas.” So this Christmas, keep that in mind and feel free to turn the tables on the person who is keen on spoiling your Christmas cheer by beating them at their own game. It’s what Uncle Nick would have wanted.
Watch the Red Band Trailer for "Uncle Nick"!
- Jason Price