Mythology bites back against centuries of whitewashing by capitalism and Catholicism in Dick Maas’s holiday slasher Saint, but it can’t even manage to break the skin. As sundown came to the 15th century in the Netherlands, the books also seemingly closed on the horrifying tale of Sinter Klause, a renegade bishop who indiscriminately killed man, woman, and child while riding his gray steed before his henchman were slaughtered and he was thought rendered to ash when townspeople set fire to his boat. Some 500 years pass with rumors of his existence being quickly snuffed out by government and police officials and the stage is set for him to return under the full moon of Amsterdam once again. All that the local college kids can think about, however, are beers, dildos, hook-ups in toolsheds, and other decidedly naughty behavior, laying a veritable smorgasbord of nubile flesh out to be carved up by a particularly decrepit-looking Saint Nick (Huub Stapel) and his serrated gold staff.
So far, so familiar: Following a triptych of gossiping girls home, Maas shamelessly invokes Jamie Lee Curtis’s walk home from high school at the beginning of Halloween, and the references certainly don’t end there. Like a great deal of horror movies, Maas doesn’t bother with building characters out of the undergrads, cops, and kids who are slaughtered by the dozens, in the hopes of eliciting the same postmodern cynical yucks that powered Alexandre Aja’s gruesome Piranha 3D. But whereas Aja at the very least had the guts not to shy away from the harrowing gore that his concept called for and, in the film’s best moment, eviscerating his allegorical double, Saint holds back on the sanguine pleasures and favors a rather dull conspiratorial agenda that casts an alcoholic, eccentric detective (Bert Luppes) and a collegiate hornball (Egbert Jan Weeber) as our unlikely heroes.
Less old-fashioned than stale, Saint compounds its unforgiving view of Dutch youth with a sense of misandry for new technologies, namely GPS systems and iPhones. This acrimony, however, doesn’t stop Maas from using copious amounts of computer-generated effects to achieve such minor spectacles as Saint Nick and his horse galloping over rooftops to escape the fuzz. Maas’s blithe hypocrisy notwithstanding, the director, who also scored the film and penned the screenplay, at least knows how to pace this rampaging mess; as much as it’s predictably plotted and visually monotonous, the film moves with an unerring fleetness.
There is nary a lag to be found in Saint, but neither is it ever exhilarating. The few deaths we’re deemed worthy enough to witness are patently unexceptional, and Maas seems more than happy to employ the loathsome technique of sound shocks to achieve his minimal scares. Less than a year ago, Jalmari Helander brought some perverse and genuinely unsettling chills to a somewhat similar premise with Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale and despite the negligible differences in narratives, it’s hard not to compare the two films and find Saint wanting. Maas’s film may very well help spur a resurgence in the oft-overlooked holiday-horror subgenre, but the inevitable Easter Bunny massacre project will no doubt prove a dozen times more enjoyable.