Elves is an embarrassing catastrophe and fails to deliver on even a single knife-wielding elf, even though the marketing promised them. A disaster on every level.
Elves delivers an unsurprisingly messy and cringe film telling the story of seven Christmas Elves that only have one thing on their mind: punishing those on the naughty list.
Honestly, I am not sure where to start with this one. Elves was incredibly tedious and confused in its narrative, clumsy and unattractive in its appearance and an all-around disaster of a movie. The film begins with two brothers fighting over Christmas decorations; after hearing some odd noises the older brother begrudgingly decides to investigate. Following some very Stranger Things-looking lights into a bedroom, the boy finds a very creepy looking ‘Elf’ doll. Now, the story goes from “boy finds a doll” to the “boy puts his younger brother into an oven” (which the younger boy happily crawls into) in a matter of seconds. It’s clear this is the doll’s doing but feels absolutely meaningless in the film’s attempts at giving audiences a “shocking” introduction to the movie. With no motivation and seemingly out of nowhere a boy has cooked his younger brother. Unfortunately, the opening scenes set the tone for the rest of the movie… a tone of confusion and of the lacklustre. Also, full disclosure: there is not a single animated elf within this film nor any kind of living elf as suggested by the movie’s marketing, but rather creepy-looking dolls that kind of resemble elves.
Elves follows a group of “friends” who all sign their name on the Naughty List for a joke at a very awkward and unappealing Christmas reunion. Little do they know that this Naughty List is, in fact, a contract created by the demonic Elves in order to punish the self-proclaimed sinners. One after the other in order of the names on the list, each character must face their demons as they are ordered to execute demands made by the Elves or face the threat of death. In a Final Destination type fashion, the characters are targeted one at a time and are inflicted with progressively more gruelling tasks.
On paper, the narrative of Elves should grow in tension and deliver an exciting climax after each victim is tormented with the ghosts of their past. Unfortunately, it is quite the contrary. To begin with, the Elves make no sense; with little backstory or prior motive, the Elves just seem to terrorise people during the festive period for the sake of it. In a feeble attempt to rectify the lack of explanation some last-minute exposition is thrown in near the end describing a loose connection between Christmas elves and the seven deadly sins (I don’t get it either). One of our protagonists can conveniently read dead languages, a weak try to create some sort of folklore. Although, Elves’ creators aren’t oblivious to this convenience as a character quips “we won’t ask how you can read that” in an unenthusiastic attempt to nod at the absurdity of the entire situation.
Elvis’s cast created an atmosphere of cringe and awkwardness, uncomfortable to watch as none of the characters appears to have anything in common, let alone have any chemistry. The audience is introduced to the main protagonists as they all sit in a circle in hesitant “AA meeting” fashion. This festive reunion is uncomfortable and the “friends” come off as disconnected and uninterested, the audiences are handed shallow characters defined by limited and uninspiring clichés. The acting is stiff and unnatural as we watch the cast trying too hard, overreacting and not being subtle as we clearly see them edging towards their next move.
The lacklustre nature of Elves may also have been contributed to by the sheer lack of direction. Elves manages to be a peculiar amalgamation of horror subgenres, adopting quirks and styles from all over. The first scene leans towards a Strangers Things aesthetic, with the visualisation of possession taking inspiration from Truth or Dare, the haunted dolls inspired by Annabelle and the sequential torments seems to be directly influenced by Final Destination. Elves has taken from too many different resources, creating an incoherent movie that simply cannot stand on its own two legs. Again, Elves is not oblivious to its own weaknesses, as there are in-jokes for the characters about how they aren’t “in that movie, Truth or Dare”, but unfortunately the statement just feels a bit guilty rather than funny.
Production value in Elves is very easy to talk about, in the sense that there absolutely is none. The lighting is incredibly poor, the crew are too dependent on light boxes and spotlight effects that feel completely out of place for the environments shown. Scenes are lit inconsistently with confusing light sources and varying atmospheres, as though each day of filming the crew wanted to experiment. This decision to try out new things, unfortunately, does not pay off as audiences are bombarded with conflicting tones and colours. Elves falls victim to one too many inexperienced mistakes, with out-of-sync audio, unpersuasive dubs and disconcerting colour correction. All of the above lend to a final muddled film that is unprofessional, completely amateur and utterly disappointing.
Overall, I had hoped that Elves would be so bad it was good but just ended up being so bad it was terrible. Although the facial animation was pretty decent, the overall production quality was lacking and just fell flat in the face of being entertaining. The characters are uninspiring and dull, with no real inspiration or meaning for their punishments. Not to mention an antagonist appears with little encouragement or purpose other than the stir the pot, although the actress’s heart was in it, her character just ended up being embarrassingly out of tune with the rest of the movie. Elves is a fine example of lazy writing, where things just happen because the writer said so and not for any logical reason. Also, there are absolutely no knife-wielding, killer Elves in the entire movie, as suggested by the poster! I wouldn’t watch this again, nor recommend it, but if you enjoy trash horror movies and fancy a hint of Christmas then maybe, just maybe, Elves is for you.
Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.