Just time for one more festive movie as the holiday season draws to a close, and it’s one of the most effective Christmas horror films to date; tapping into our underlying fears about the Pagan origins of the season, The Holiday is a terrifying look at the underlying banality of human relationships. With one stomach-churning scene following close on the other, it’s a real test of stamina for anyone but hardened veterans and contrarian thrill-seekers to watch even a scene from; watching the whole film evokes an intense sense of societal dread and disorientation.
Cameron Diaz plays Amanda, a vapid LA film person who agrees to swap houses with Iris Simkins (Kate Winslet) a British society columnist for fascist mouthpiece The Telegraph. Simkins falls into the hands of a sinister Hollywood writers cult run by the demonic Miles (Jack Black), and Meyers spares us none of the potential discomfort as the new couple plan a trip to a Writers Guild of America awards sacrificial do. But the real pastoral horror comes for Amanda, who has been warned that there are no attractive men in her sleepy village, but is taken aback when Simkins’ saturnine brother Graham (Jude Law) pops in to ‘piss in her doorway’ and they end up sleeping together.
The Holiday is an elevated example of the horror genre, with big stars and fancy production, but a relentless stream of horrific ideas to mine. It’s never made clear exactly what evil force has taken control of these people, which feels like something from Invasion of the Body Snatchers; watching these vapid people swap compliments and scat-sing to each other curdles the soul and gradually saps viewers of the will to live.
Meyers wisely leans in to the horror aspect, never panning away from horrifying wide-shots of Law’s schoolboy grin, or Black’s hideous sub-Robin Williams comic schtick. The Holiday is one of those fearless films that push the envelope in terms of what audiences are prepared to view on their screens, with punishing rom-com scenarios and musical choices designed to alienate and appall. When The Holiday ends, you’ll be relieved, but these dark, hideous images of human abasement will haunt your dreams and leave you with troubling, difficult questions of identity. Are we so jaded that we need such agonising, shocking films to remind us that we are still alive?