If Santa Claus ever wanted to sue the movie business for slander, he’s starting to have a case. As if the kind interpretations of the North Pole denizen such as Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” series or that terrible 1985 film starring John Lithgow weren’t bad enough, he’s had to deal in recent years with the
Icelandic Finnish “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” which imagined Santa as a psychotic child abuser, and now Dick Maas’ “Saint,” which suggests the Dutch holiday of Sinterklass is all a big ruse so that Saint Nicholas, a renegade bishop, can return from the dead to seek vengeance in the village where he met his demise in 1492.
The St. Nick in “Saint” doesn’t pretend to like children – he carries around a golden sceptre with a scorpion-like ornamentation on the tip to decapitate them, should he see fit. But since this is R-rated fun, he doesn’t bother with the little ones, instead tormenting a group of college students in the present day as part of his tradition every 32 years to come out during the full moon. He did, however, traumatize one young boy named Goert, a child who was asked to check on the family’s pigs one Sinterklass while inside his parents are slaughtered back in 1968 and now when a rash of killings begins to take place around the holidays, the grown Goert, who has an itchy trigger finger around gifts, is asked to lead the investigation.
“Saint” doesn’t develop much further beyond your average slasher film from there, although the kills are inventive enough and it remains fascinating to see what Europeans have been doing with studio-level special effects to enhance their set-pieces, which take the film into the realm of the spectacular. One sequence in particular – a thrilling police chase where the cops try to shoot down St. Nick as he gallops on his white steed across the rooftops of Amsterdam – seems as though it came out of Timur Bekmambetov’s bag of tricks, but feels fresh with the energy it brings to what at first feels like a smaller-scale film.
When you add in the relatively serious tone Maas brings to an otherwise ridiculous enterprise much like Bekmambetov or Tommy Wirkola (the Norwegian director of “Dead Snow”) – both of whom are now making Hollywood productions – it feels like a potential calling card for future gigs, especially since the film is constantly jumping from one genre to another, starting out as a horror film and ending up as a siege thriller when its protagonists end up on a boat lying in wait for St. Nick. That may not have been the intention since Maas has been making films in the Netherlands since the ’80s, yet just as the film is constantly reinventing itself, perhaps Maas is as well.
Regardless, “Saint” feels like the work of a younger director, with all the messiness that comes with it, but also the sharp edge. Of course, that’s a good thing if you’re in the mood for a St. Nicholas that’s more likely to leave corpses under the tree than gifts.
“Saint” was picked up for U.S. distribution by IFC Midnight and will play the Tribeca Film Festival once more on April 27th.