“Santa Isn’t Real” (2023) [Nightmares Film Festival]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Zac Locke’s holiday horror, Santa Isn't Real, courtesy of the Nightmares Film Festival.

After suffering a brutal attack on Christmas eve, a young woman, Nikki, struggles to convince her friends that the assailant was none other than Kris Kringle. When Santa returns to terrorize the group in their remote cabin the next Christmas, Nikki and her friends must overcome disbelief as they fight to stay alive.

The Good
Joseph: The performances by the three female leads —  Kaya Coleman, Scarlett Sperduto, and Cissy Li — are quite solid. Writer/director Zac Locke has a knack for suspense and pacing, doing nice work at the helm for a film that is technically sound.

Mike: If you’ve never watched a slasher film and have yet to experience the thrill of correctly guessing who the killer is, then Santa Isn’t Real is a great place to start with its entry level difficulty in this department.  So impressed with your own skill and deductive reasoning you will undoubtedly forgive the transgressions that this film will have executed on your psyche.
The four main actors are solid enough in their roles which is one of the few positives I can find to mention.  Director/writer Locke’s strongest contribution to the film is his ability to frame a scene and build enough suspense to keep things interesting. There are also a couple of jokes (I think they were jokes) that made me laugh, but with comedy being very subjective I almost hesitate to include this.

The Bad
Joseph: Nothing new is on offer here for either slasher movies or Christmas-themed slashers. Protagonist with PTSD issues after surviving a murder attempt (Kaya Coleman as Nikki): check. Masked Santa killer: check. Cabin in the woods location including threat of snowstorm: check. The list goes on. Also, there are clever twists in movies, and then there is overdoing it. Unfortunately, Santa Isn’t Real falls into the latter category for me. The traumatized Nikki loses her status as a sympathetic character in a manner that I found to be quite a stretch — and there’s more.

Mike: There are some good “holiday horrors” out there and then there is this.  Bringing absolutely nothing new to the table, Santa Isn’t Real wraps itself up in a garland of slasher tropes and presents one of the most predictable and trite films I’ve seen in quite a while. Bad writing and suspect spatial awareness are more than enough to pull you out of the proceedings (which might be a good thing).

The Verdict
Joseph: I have seen worse Santa-as-slayer features on the film festival circuit this year than Santa Isn't Real, but I have also seen far better ones. I would recommend this one only for Christmas-slasher and holiday-horror completists. 

Mike: Look, over the past year that I’ve been doing reviews with Joseph I would like to think that I’ve become more forgiving of flaws, afterall, like 98% of what we watch here are indie films.  Some people, an idea, and a camera - and while some people are better at it than others, everyone gives 100% and you have to admire that.  But at the same time, if a 100% effort results in something like Santa Isn’t Real, maybe it’s time to step back from feature films and work on scripting with some short films, or even possibly collaborate with someone a little stronger in the writing/plotting/scripting departments.
The shortcomings on display here can all be summed up by the line - when doing an info dump in the form of a monologue - the main character (Nikki), who has literally just woken up from a one year long coma, says “I’ve been doing research”.  

Santa Isn't Real, from Zac Locke, Rotting Press, and The Straits, is playing as part of the Nightmares Film Festival which is running from October 26th - 29th.  For more information please visit https://nightmaresfest.com/.

Santa Isn't Real
Directed By: Zac Locke
Written By: Zac Locke
Starring: Kaya Coleman, Scarlett Sperduto, Cissy Li, Trey Anderson, Dana Millican
Run Time: 1h 20m
Rating: NR
Release Date: October 27th, 2023

There was no trailer available as of our review date