Netflix’s latest offering is a true nightmare before Christmas — and that’s a good thing. “El Camino Christmas,” available to stream on Friday, Dec. 8, tells the story of a drifter (played by “Fifty Shades of Grey”‘s Luke Grimes) whose arrival in a sleepy California town sets off a chain of chaotic events, culminating in a fatal hostage situation at a liquor store. As the madness unfolds, countless lives — including those of a single mother (played by Letterkenny’s Michelle Mylett) and her young, introverted son — are changed forever.
In case it wasn’t already clear, this isn’t your typical comedy — and it’s definitely not your typical Christmas movie. The unconventional story, which also stars Dax Shepard and Vincent D’Onofrio as a pair of bumbling cops with absolutely no business wielding pistols, takes pride in bucking conventions at every turn, of which there are many.
Cookie cutter Christmas movies about young love and presents are nice, but let’s be honest: they all start to look the same after a while. And if there’s one El Camino Christmas doesn’t lack, it’s originality.
Just look at the film’s imagery: Gone are the glistening white-topped pines of Christmas movies past, replaced here by sun-dried cacti and crispy brown trees just waiting to spark a forest fire. Heck, if not for a festive greeting spray painted on the window of the liquor store, you might even forget that it’s Christmastime in El Camino. (At one point, Shepard’s character literally exclaims, “Oh, shit. It is Christmas!”)
Despite including the holiday in its title, “El Camino” doesn’t limit itself to being merely a Christmas story. Among the tales it simultaneously spins is a drunkard’s last shot at redemption, a woman’s struggle to be taken seriously at work, a corrupt police officer’s need for a reality check, and a handsome outsider’s mysterious past — all blended together to create a stunning portrait of small-town despair.
Sure, the movie co-stars Tim Allen, whose portrayal of good ol’ St. Nick in the “Santa Clause” trilogy earned him a spot in the Ho Ho Ho Hall of Fame. But from the moment he drops his first F-bomb — of many, by the way — you know you’re in for something a little different. In fact, Allen’s performance proves to be one of the film’s biggest surprises; his character, a cynical Vietnam War veteran named Larry Roth, has ditched the Bible for the bottle years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Even a mother-son reading of “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” — just the kind of sweet moment you’d expect from a holiday movie — is immediately subverted by a grandmother-mother fight about dressing too sexily for a booty call at the bowling alley. (And it’s the grandmother doing the calling.)
To be fair, the holiday spirit does eventually find its way to El Camino by the end of the film, but the path it takes to arrive is one you won’t see coming — even if you think you’ve got it all figured out.
[Editors Note: This article is presented in partnership with Netflix’s original film “El Camino Christmas”– now streaming exclusively on Netflix]