CARNAGE FOR CHRISTMAS – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Another year, another sack-full of jaw-dropping professional accomplishments for horror filmmaker Alice Maio Mackay. If Mackay is somehow not already on your radar, so impressive is her CV that you are forgiven for thinking it could only be the result of a drunk, delusional AI program: at a mere 19 years of age, her latest film Carnage for Christmas is her fifth feature, following on from her 2021 debut So Vam which was picked up by international horror streaming service Shudder, and Bad Girl Boogey (2022), T Blockers (2023) and Satranic Panic (2023) which have stormed the international genre fest circuit, winning fans (and, notably, major awards) wherever they have played.

As noted in the 2023 AWFJ Spotlight profile on Mackay, this “Australian transgender filmmaker … wears her activist spirit fiercely on her sleeve” and her “films are unapologetically queer and delight in the fantastic potential the horror genre affords”. Feature film number five – Carnage for Christmas, which recently had its world premiere at the beloved Salem Horror Film Festival – is no different.

The film follows Lola (Jeremy Moineau), a sharp-witted transgender horror podcaster who somewhat begrudgingly returns to the small Australian town she grew up in to visit the family who are still talking to her and the friends that remain. To spice up the trip, she decides to investigate an old urban legend about a local mass murderer, only to discover that this spectre from the past seems to have returned, with a taste for blood that has not lessened over time. With increasing pressure on her to solve the crime in the face of the small-minded bigotry of the town she was once so happy to leave, it’s a race against the clock for Lola to reveal the truth about the killings and the dark secrets of the town itself.

Mackay has always flourished in the context of filmmaking’s seemingly endless opportunities to collaborate. Aside from the return here of her long-time co-writing partner Ben Pahl Robinson and recurring on-screen talents like Cassie Hamilton and Toshiro Glenn, Mackay is notably joined here with high-calibre collaborators such as Vera Drew of The People’s Joker on editing duties and makeup whiz Adele Shearwin whose previous credits include Danny and Michael Philippou’s blockbuster recent horror smash, Talk to Me.

May might for some seem a random month to premiere a Christmas-themed movie, but for those of us already under Mackay’s spell, it’s Christmas whenever she damned well says it is. Consciously inspired by the Pamela Sue Martin fronted Nancy Drew Mysteries of the late 1970s, Carnage for Christmas feels like a wry punk twist on the murder-of-the-week formula, a defiantly queer Murder She Wrote for a new generation.

Like all of Mackay’s films, there is a pervasive spirit of joy to Carnage for Christmas, an undisguised and distinctly pure sense of delight at the very act of making movies that otherwise feels broadly absent in the contemporary indie film scene. But that glee never detracts from what is clearly her driving mission to centre queer stories that speak with refreshing and urgent frankness to the current zeitgeist, where trans folk like herself have disgracefully become the punching bag of choice for vicious, shameless bigots with more power than sense. Mackay’s films – like the filmmaker herself – are a gift, and Carnage for Christmas reveals a visionary artist who shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).