Defined as a ‘movie produced outside of a major studio’, the term ‘Independent Film’ used to be a hallmark of quality. Suggesting a pedigreed film capable of succeeding on its merits without help from the Hollywood establishment. The term has lost nearly all its cache and became a marketing slogan used to brand films as avant-garde or counter-culture even if they’re produced by billion dollar companies like A24 and Blumhouse. YouTube and TikTok gave anyone with chops and a cellphone the chance to be a widely seen filmmaker, further relegating the term ‘Independent Film’ to obscurity. It’s still occasionally dragged out as a marketing ploy to polish a turd like Secret Santa. Not that it worked on me… because it didn’t.
The holiday who-done-it challenges its viewers to care about who-done-it. Secret Santa follows a college friend group as they’re systematically killed off during a Christmas party. There’s predictable emotional entanglement between these friends as per usual with this sort of low budget college film made ‘good’. There’s a love triangle, a teacher sleeping with their student, and a camgirl who’s hiding her immodest income from her cheating boyfriend.
I would never recommend listening to Secret Santa’s commentary track but hey, they don’t call it masochism for nothing! It’s the standard self congratulatory fare complete with banal inside jokes and funny moments from the shoot but somewhere in the 78 minute giggle-fest the director refers to himself or the movie as an ‘independent filmmaker/film’. He’s not wrong, Secret Santa is an independent film. At minimum it meets the definition established in the first paragraph of this review, but it sounded like someone insisting to a bouncer they’re on the guest list. Look again, I’m sure Secret Santa‘s on there!
I’m probably projecting here, as a person who’s jealous this shitty movie’s available to rent on Amazon Prime while my abilities feel like they’ve plateaued at a low altitude. It’s humbling and disappointing because no matter how much I would love to shit on Secret Santa for being an impudent bore it wouldn’t change that I spent my time watching, and now reviewing, it while no one gives a shit about my work. Not even this blog.
Maybe that’s the power of Secret Santa, the movie so bad it motivates self improvement. If this movie got distribution, then couldn’t anything get distributed? Should we find out?