The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Surprisingly good for a TV movie that first aired on Lifetime, this ghost story/romance still had a few missteps.

First, we follow a man through the show. He sees a house in the distance; a woman comes out. A man comes out and appears to embrace her. And then THWACK. He's dead.

And then an opening sequence! I'm ashamed to admit that after so many movies featuring B-roll of New York City in snow, I failed to notice that this sequence is actually supposed to be Boston. We just thought it was surprisingly snowy.

Like many terrible rom-coms, this movie introduces its female lead by establishing that she "doesn't know how to love" and "works too much." Like few of them, this sequence is actually delightful. Kate is much better off without her wanna-be psychoanalyst boyfriend and seems to get real satisfaction from her job.

Said job, for a law firm, is sending her out of town to visit a historic inn. The woman who owned it has passed away with no heirs, and the estate wants to sell. This requires an appraisal, but all the appraisers have been scared off by the "ghost."

Kate fails to prevent the most recent appraiser from fleeing the premises, and the caretaker tells her that the building is about to be closed for two weeks. She's not going to let that stop her from doing her job, so she decides to stay over and figure out the problem in the morning. Despite all tropes, she goes to bed in a haunted mansion in a sensible knit shirt and yoga pants. I like her.

Of course, overnight a mysterious man arrives. He insists that she leave, she tells him that she's managing the sale and he needs to get out, and they have several runarounds with the local sheriff, who never sees the man.

While they're stuck in a standoff, the caretaker returns and tells Kate that the man, Daniel, is the ghost. He takes corporeal form for twelve days each year, just before Christmas, but he's limited to the building and property. After demanding and receiving proof, Kate decides the best way for everyone to get what they want is to figure out what "curse" Daniel is under and break it. He'll get to move on, and the inn can be safely sold, ghost-free.

Have you spotted the Beauty and the Beast parallels yet? Our heroine is more-or-less trapped in a haunted house with an angry man under a curse. And he's cute.

Their attempts to figure out/remember what happened to Daniel are interrupted by local pub owner Molly, who has a crush on the caretaker and needs a place to hold some Christmas events due to a flood at her establishment. Kate cajoles/bullies Daniel into letting this happen, and he seems to enjoy the company of others, for all his protest about his solitude.

Between gossip and memories, Kate puts together that back when he was alive, Daniel had been running the inn, but to make extra money and keep the place afloat during Prohibition, he did some rum-running. His cousin Harry was in on it with him, and his brother Charlie objected. Charlie also had a crush on Daniel's sweetheart, Lily, and married her soon after Daniel died. However, Lily had a baby very quickly, quickly enough that it might have been Daniel's. She and the baby both passed away, however.

None of this tells them how to break the curse.

Kate's boss eventually gets sick of the lack of progress on the sale and calls her back to Boston with another emergency project. Daniel is sad to see her go, and she promises to return before he vanishes at Christmas. (Okay, NOW you see Beauty and the Beast, right?)

In Boston, Kate does some records research and verifies that Lily listed Daniel as her child's father, indicating that her marriage with Charlie was probably just for show.

She skips out on work to return to the inn to tell Daniel, and he's moved by the story, finally letting go of his anger about the supposed betrayal. At the Christmas Eve dance in the inn that night, Daniel starts to see ghosts (oh, there have been other voices and such this whole time) and finally puts it all together. He's not under a curse per se. Just before Daniel died, Lily told Charlie that Daniel was a good man, despite breaking the law, and he could change in time.

Somehow this meant that Daniel would return for 12 days (the same amount of time he was on his last rum-running trip) until he could "change." The specifics aren't...very specific here, and it's where this melodrama starts to run off the rails a bit.

Harry (the cousin) killed Daniel, incidentally, and their ghosts chat about it. Daniel forgives Harry, and he passes on. Lily forgives Daniel, and she disappears.

At midnight Daniel and Kate think they've failed, that Daniel is still stuck, and Kate says that she loves him and she'll be back next year. They kiss at midnight, and there's a super weird moment that seems to imply his kiss puts her to sleep? And he has an unpleasantly patronizing voiceover about how she'll be able to love again now that she knows that she can, or something.

Anyway, Lily reappears and leads Daniel to the edge of the property. It's implied that he can cross over now, but she says he has a choice. After a bunch of misdirection, it's revealed that he is now, I guess, just a guy? Who can stay with Kate, despite having died 90-some years ago and knowing very little about the modern world?

It's a weird ending. They almost manage to sell it; the actors are charming and the musical score is good. But we just couldn't shake the weirdness of it.

Daniel was angry about Lily "betraying" him for 90 years! Now he finds out she didn't, she loved him the whole time, and he decides NOT to cross over with her? What a jerk!

Kate's nice and all, but they really didn't have to go that way. A more satisfying ending (if also a cliche) would have been to have Daniel pass on, but have his and Lily's child have lived, and Kate could meet (and implied maybe fall for in the future) their grandson.

This whole movie is super melodramatic, but the mix of old-fashioned and modern Christmas scenes worked well (even if Lily's voice didn't really sound like the 1920s), and overall, for a TV movie, this didn't suck.