Just like the Christmas dinner turkey moments before it enters the oven, the annual routine schedule of Christmas movies is a well-oiled operation. You know that you will be watching Home Alone at least once; you will have the same old arguments over whether Die Hard really is a Christmas Film (it definitely is); you will maybe think twice before you watch Elf, but you will whole-heartedly enjoy it once it’s playing; It’s A Wonderful Life is always lined up, along with a large box of tissues for the inevitable cry at the finale. Christmas is all about traditions, and when it comes to movies, we definitely respect that.
However, we would love to offer a couple of less conventional alternatives to tickle your festive fancy this season. You might be thinking that a film festival taking place in June would not know much about Christmas films, but we do in fact have a few hidden gems in our archives that really put the festive into festival!
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) • 15
Teenage Anna is desperate to move away from her hometown, where everything is mundane and over familiar. The night of the High School Christmas concert approaches and things get seriously weird and bloody when the undead turn up. Anna (played by an excellent Ella Hunt) and her best friends’ band together to fight back as zombies threaten their loved ones. This wonderfully engaging horror/ musical/ comedy is a fresh and high-spirited delight, balancing tunes with terror, and danger with dance. We screened the UK Premiere of this Scottish genre mash-up at our 2018 festival!
Watch here on Now TV
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (2018) • 12
This film title might not immediately shout Christmas at you – and you’d be right. The very tenuous festive link is the film’s setting. Christmas Island, so named by 17th Century British colonialists on Christmas Day, is famous for one of the largest annual land migrations – that is forty million red craps scurrying to the sea. It also houses a high-security detention facility, in which those seeking asylum in Australia are detained indefinitely.
This first feature by Gabrielle Brady follows trauma counsellor Poh Lin as she attempts to support detainees and explores the island’s terrain, its violent past and inescapable present. A fiercely compassionate and timely look at a lesser known asylum story, take an educational approach this Christmas with a visit to Christmas Island in this stunning documentary.
Watch here on BFI Player
Rare Exports (2018) • 15
When a secret burial mound is disturbed, a countdown begins and a small isolated community is plunged into a Christmas nightmare. With chilly echoes of Carpenter’s The Thing and a nod to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Finnish director Jalmari Helander’s gloriously gruesome fantasy/horror adventure delves deep into ancient folklore to dispose of the contemporary image of Father Christmas in favour of something far less cheerful. Get ready to meet the real bad Santa and find out how his magic really works. Rare Exports screened at our 2018 Dark Xmas season, chosen by EIFF Senior Programmer Niall Grieg Fulton. Catch this quirky Scandinavian festive offering now!
Watch here on Amazon
Hector (2015) • 15
For years Hector has wandered between motorway service stations, sleeping under bridges, and living on handouts; however, when his past life starts to catch up with him one Christmas, the reasons for his self-imposed exile become clear. Ably supported by a strong cast including Gina McKee, Keith Allan and Stephen Tomkinson, Peter Mullan transforms this gentle observational drama into a heart-warming, enlightened and hopeful study of human frailty. Mullan went on to win the Scottish BAFTA Best Actor Award for his pitch-perfect portrayal of the affable homeless pensioner, following its World Premiere at the festival in 2015.
Watch here on BBC iPlayer
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) • 18
Back in 2017, the gloriously twisted festive dream Eyes Wide Shut was another Dark Xmas choice chosen to screen at Filmhouse by the EIFF team. Kubrick's final work, released twelve years after Full Metal Jacket and completed only a few days before his death, was unquestionably one of the most highly anticipated films of modern times. Dr Bill Harford and his wife Alice, happily married for nine years, attend a Christmas party and end up flirting with other guests. Their unconsummated brushes with infidelity lead to a marijuana-fueled fight at home, during which Alice confesses a sexual fantasy that profoundly unsettles her husband. Meticulous, deliberate and precise, Eyes Wide Shut makes for an unusual and exciting Christmas alternative!
Watch here on Apple TV
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) • 15
First shown at EIFF in 1983 as part of a focus on director Nagisa Ôshima, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence returned to the program in 2016 to complement our Jeremy Thomas: In Person event. The late Ôshima’s first English language film is set in a Japanese run POW camp on the Indonesian island of Java in 1942. Run by the initially benevolent Capitan Yonoi and the heavy-handed Sergeant Hara things go smoothly thanks to the bilingual Colonel Lawrence, who tries to mediate between the prisoners and their overseers. When new prisoner Major Jack Celliers (played by David Bowie) arrives, however, his charismatic personality and rebellious attitude destroy the camp's equilibrium.
Watch here on MUBI