Spirit of the Season: a new holiday/horror mashup, a one-night one-screen film premiere

Spirit of the Season, The Debutantes and Lazy Kitten Productions. Photo supplied

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Five friends in full flight mode escape to a remote cabin in the woods. That always works, right?

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In Spirit of the Season, the indie holiday/ horror mash-up comedy film getting a one-night premiere screening Wednesday night at the Citadel’s Zeidler Hall, the five are fleeing the Christmas season, in all its stressful demands and enforced jollity — a fateful avoidance move if ever there was one. Will the Christmas spirit find them, and pick them off, one by one, in time-honoured horror fashion?

When it comes to the holiday season, you can run but you cannot hide. 

Produced by the sketch comedy troupe The Debutantes and Lazy Kitten Productions, the movie was shot in and around Edmonton a year ago. last year — “very DIY guerrilla film-making,” as co-director Robyn Slack of The Debutantes explains. Spirit of the Season had pandemic origins: in the absence of live shows, “we shot short silly comedy video sketches of our auditions for Hallmark movies…. And they caught the eye of Katie Cutting,” an indie filmmaker and Slack’s co-director (“the one with all the gear, the smarts, the know-how,” he says) who goaded them to find an expansive form. 

What they needed for their venture, “our first time writing something narrative and cohesive,” was a story to frame it. And the collaborators — Slack, Cutter, The Debutantes, and Azimuth Theatre’s Sue Goberdhan, “everyone’s got their finger in the pie!” — found it by asking themselves a question. “What’s everyone’s relationship to the holiday season,” says Slack. whose experience in film before Spirit of the Season was “mostly indie short-form comedy.”. 

At early meetings “there was a broad range of perspectives,” he reports. “I’m on the most pro-Christmas end of the spectrum; I haven’t had any real trouble or major stress. I like it; I think it’s an enjoyable escape and a fun time of year.” 

Not everyone shared this buoyant view, needless to say. “People who have a complicated history with the holiday and a hard time of it at that time of year, people who’ve lost family members, people who’ve come out as trans or queer…. We tried really hard to capture in the film that this holiday means a lot of different things to different people.” 

“Each character has their unique struggle,” says Slack, “everything  from mild annoyance or being exhausted with the consumerism to something deeply traumatic. It’s not a heavy movie; it’s a light comedy, but we try to broach those themes as best we can.” Then, marrying the horror trope to a Christmas theme was “a fun contrast to play with!”  

Creating a holiday movie is fraught with timing demands at every level. Weather ups the ante. And in the fall of 2021, when shooting was to begin in preparation for the big holiday reveal, Edmonton fell short in the one crucial thing you can usually count on here: snow on the ground. In late October, there wasn’t any. “Last year it took a really long time to get a nice layer of snow on the ground. We could have been ready a full year earlier,” Slack sighs.

The shooting happened in a cabin south of the city, west of Leduc, a generous loan from a personal friend of the Cutting family. “We’d go for two days at a time,” working around everyone’s jobs. “The first thing on the agenda every time we got there was to start a fire — before we could do anything.” It was so cold they had to keep the equipment in the car till the cabin warmed up. 

An adventurous spirit proved de rigueur; the film has a whimsical diary. They shot a chase sequence — one person on foot, pursued by one person on GT Snow Racer — in the dead of night, says Slack. “Very cold but very fun.” For one scene, “we baked hundreds of sugar cookies that got smashed,” in an act of seasonal violence. Another was shot on Halloween. 

There’s a practical reason that Spirit of the Season is a one-night only one-screen only event. It is, to be sure, a little late this year to be marketing a Christmas movie. “Now we have a year lead time to apply for marketing grants and find wider distribution,” says Slack. “But we didn’t want to wait a whole other year to show the movie; we’re pretty excited about it.”   

“If you’re the kind of person who goes all in for it, or the kind of person who struggles with the holidays, this may be just the movie for you!”


Spirit of the Season

Produced by: The Debutantes and Lazy Kitten Productions

Directed by: Robyn Slack and Katie Cutting

Starring: Michael Vetsch, Laena Anderson, David Rae, Glenna Schowaiter, Sue Goberdhan

Where: Zeidler Hall, Citadel Theatre

When: Wednesday Dec. 21, 8 p.m.

Tickets: citadeltheatre.com 


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