I can totally imagine how this went down in some Brentwood living room, or maybe an apartment in West Hollywood: Writer/Director Justin Price is shooting the breeze with his buddies and someone asks “Hey man, did your folks ever do that Elf On The Shelf thing when you were a kid?” After the laughter and one-upmanship of weird Elf on the Shelf stories dies down, Justin gets moody and thoughtful. “What if,” he finally says, “what if the Elf was actually possessed by Satan?”
That’s the premise of the weird, confusing, low budget horror film The Elf and, well, let’s just say that it earns its horrendous 2.7 rating on IMDb.
There’s a lot wrong with it but the biggest problem is that there’s just too little “Elf” given that he’s the title character of the film. Instead it’s about a couple of college kids, Nick (Gabriel Miller) and Victoria (Natassia Halabi) who head to a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere just before Christmas: Nick, we learn, has inherited an old junk shop. The back room is full of Christmas ornaments, dolls, toys and a mysterious chest. Within which is the requisite creepy Elf doll. Or is it?
Cue scary music.
There’s an opening scene that’s presumably setting the scene, an old man hunched over his toy construction project but somehow instead making a pact with the devil. Who is in the room in the form of.. you guessed it… the Elf.
Victoria is a cliché ingenue and has invited her entire family to Nick’s family house for Christmas and the big news: they’re getting married. Nick has a back story that includes his entire family being murdered when he was just a young boy. He asserted that it was a possessed, animated doll but the cops were sure he’d done it and his childhood involved him being in mental institutions. At least, I think that’s what happened, because, like much in the film, that part of the storyline is a bit confusing.
There’s a “Naughty List” that sporadically shows up and as people are killed [no spoiler alert. Of course people die in dumb and gruesome ways in a film like this] their names are crossed off the list. But is Nick secretly killing people, or is it that damn creepy Elf?
Turns out no-one really cares and in the classic way of bad horror, because we have no emotional attachment to any of the characters in the film, I found myself rooting for the Elf. Part of that was also because Victoria’s family were stupid and banal characters, at best, with a special shout-out to Joseph Daniel Ellis, who plays Victoria’s father. I hope he has a day job that involves something other than acting. ‘nuf said.
As I said in the beginning, the concept of a demonic Elf on the Shelf is great. Heck, when you look at the weird photos people post from their own Elf on the Shelf activities, it might already have one little foot in the underworld already. But instead of really running with that concept and making a film that slowly built up the creep factor, The Elf ends up a ghastly mess. Not even a “Mystery Science Theater 3000 could fix it” mess. Just a bad, bad movie.
If you want a goofy elf movie, well, Will Farrell has that nicely covered in his popular film of the same name. Looking for Christmas horror? I enjoyed Krampus way more than i should have last year and recommend it. [here’s my review of Krampus]
As for The Elf? Skip it. In fact, run away from it. But don’t worry, the sequel’s on its way out: Elves. You only wish I was making this up, right?