Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield, "Good Boys") plays his wheelchair-bound grandmother and absentee father like a budding evil genius, the child keeping his own hit man (Walton Goggins) on call for such occasions as losing his school science fair's blue ribbon to Christine Crawford (Ellison Grier Butler). When Christmas rolls around and the elaborately wrapped box from Santa contains a lump of coal, Billy wants him dead, but neither he nor Skinny Man understands quite who they're up against taking on the "Fatman."
Laura's Review: B-
There is a subgenre of Christmas movies that intersect with blackly comic horror, films like “Rare Exports,” “Krampus” and “Better Watch Out.” Writer/director brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms’ ("Small Time Crime") film is so off kilter, it doesn’t quite line up with those in either the horror or comedy departments, but should appeal to the same audience. This is a film whose Fatman (Mel Gibson) is bedeviled more by the financial realities of a government contract than any excess weight (‘You think I got this job because I'm fat and jolly?’) despite his talent for filching wife Ruth’s (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) cookies. And for those who recoil from the Nelms’ star because of his bigoted history, one wonders if his casting in a biracial marriage was intended as image rejuvenation – whatever the reason, Gibson shares a naturally charismatic affection with his costar that is one of the film’s best assets.
And yet the Gibson we’re introduced to is a familiar one - grizzled, angry and engaged in target shooting in the snow when a bundled up Ruth comes out to check on him. Back inside their old farmhouse, Chris (Cringle, of course) worries about their financial situation as their income has been cut in half because of a government contract which pays by the piece. As more children become ‘naughty’ instead of ‘nice,’ the Cringles pay the price even though their intended effect on consumer spending remains a huge success (‘We’re the largest economic stimulus but we can’t pay the electricity bill’). It’s one weird Christmas movie that uses Santa to comment on the gig economy, but that’s part of this one’s oddball charms.
But we also spend time with Skinny Man, the killer for hire introduced offering $900 for a baseball bat tagged ‘Made in Santa’s Workshop’ which is added to his museum of Santa’s toys, one of which, a Matchbox-like model car, holds a place of honor important to his childhood. As Chris accepts that he’ll have to accept Captain Jacobs’ (Robert Bockstael) proffered short-term contract building control panels for fighter jets, his elves capable of top notch performance 24x7 as long as the sweets keep coming, Skinny Man starts making his way towards North Peak to take the man out (with a stop to buy a dashboard mounted hamster wheel for his pet along the way). The body count will be high.
The film’s score and soundtrack pretty much signals its story’s arc, beginning with Christmas standards before evolving into Morricone-esque horns. The film was shot in Canada and Vermont, Santa’s regular mode of transport a red Ford pickup truck (the sled and reindeer are indeed in the barn). I have no idea why so many characters are named after famous people (Christine Crawford, Lindsay Kemp, Robert Taylor...), but the elves are efficiently numbered (No. 7 is the foreman) and their boss values them. Mrs. Cringle usually doesn’t get much attention in Christmas movies, but Jean-Baptiste is this movie’s center of calm, and the Nelms’ last shot of her happily baking in her kitchen features a most amusing foreground detail. “Fatman” may not be for all, but those who prefer quirk over sentiment in their holiday fare should give this one a whirl.
Robin's Review: B
It is the busiest time of year for Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) as he delivers gifts to deserving children around the world. One boy, though, is a not very nice but wealthy kid and Billy (Chance Hurstfield) gets a lump of coal from Santa. He wants revenge. Enter the Skinny Man (Walton Goggins), a hit man who also has long-brewing issues with the “Fatman.”
This very dark black comedy by writers/directors Eshom and Ian Nels may not appeal to the traditional fan of Christmas movies but, I have to admit, it tickled my funny bone in a holiday way.
If you look at Santa’s “naughty and nice” list, you would find nasty young Billy at the top of naughty. So, when Santa snubs him, he calls in his hit-man-on-retainer and orders him to do in Chris Cringle. The Skinny Man, it turns out, was snubbed by the not-so-jolly fat man when he was a kid and never forgot. The hit will be a labor of long time hate.
But, Chris’s plight and pending doom is the least of the problems that he and Mrs. Claus, Ruby (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), now face. The economic downturn has hurt the Claus’s traditional income stream and they face desperate financial straights. Enter the US government with a lucrative military contract to build control panels for a new fighter jet. This, of course, goes against all the things that have made Christmas and Santa special to the world. But, the Clauses need the money and put their elves to work.
So, we have an off-beat holiday film that turns the idea of Christmas and, in particular, Santa on its head. When Chris comes face-to-face with his possible killer, he says, “You think I got this job because I’m fat and jolly?” That gives you an idea where this might go, but do not second guess it.
The filmmakers make a holiday movie that is oddly fit for the life and times we are living now. We must face things that we never had to before and that includes Santa and his business of making kids happy.