A Christmas Carol (2012)

This low-budget Irish production sells itself as the "darkest" adaptation ever made, which is what put it on my radar. Before we even touch on that - or anything else about this - I need to take a moment and focus on another adjective in my opening sentence, namely "low-budget." Because when I say this looks as though it was made for very little money, I'm not exaggerating. The phrase "independent movie" covers a large range of films, from student projects to elaborate arthouse pieces that look as good or better than Hollywood productions. Sadly, this is closer to the former. Much closer. Honestly, I wondered if it might be a school project for a while.

That's not to say it's bad, exactly. When you're looking at movies made under these kinds of constraints, that term loses significance. This is an ambitious movie, and without fully understanding the filmmakers' goals in undertaking the project, I can't even begin to offer insight on whether they might have succeeded. Where I can chime in is on whether I think it's worth watching for the typical (or even atypical) viewer, and I'm afraid that's going to be a firm no. Fair or not, the effects, sets, and acting aren't able to compete with literally dozens of other options out there. Even if you're looking for a version of A Christmas Carol with a horror bend, there are several options you'll find far more satisfying (I'd recommend the 1935 Scrooge starring Seymour Hicks or the 1971 animated short starring Alistair Sim).

I don't want to create the impression there's nothing impressive here. This version features a strong, atmospheric score. In addition, the actor playing Scrooge's nephew Fred puts in good work. There are also a handful of ideas and visuals that work, such as Scrooge and the spirit manifesting in paintings during the Christmas Past section.

But that's more or less the extent of it. The remaining movie... well... let's get started.

After the opening credits play over some creepy paintings, we cut via subtitles to 1843 London, which... okay, this was probably a mistake. While ostensibly set in Victorian London, this appears to have been filmed in a handful of locations in Ireland, all of which seem to be rural. Also, most of it was clearly shot in spring or summer, judging by the foliage. The interior shots, which comprise virtually the entire movie, seem to have been done in a combination of locations. They shot at least some of this in or around a castle, other scenes look as if they were filmed in a mansion or perhaps a hotel, and still others appear to just be someone's house. They managed to find locations that look old in a generic way, but nothing looks remotely like Victorian London. They'd have been better off not bringing it up and just moving the location of the story.

Only then they couldn't justify the frame story in which Charles Dickens reads his book. And this is kind of essential for this version, as they use the narration in place of several scenes they're unable to include. Instead, we're shown clips from the movie during the voice-over. Sometimes we're shown random shots of ruins or sunsets instead. Once, they stuck a medieval knight on screen for some reason.

These weird montages aren't the entirety of the movie, but they make up a substantial portion. It makes for an odd experience, and I honestly can't tell if they really liked the aesthetic or if they were just covering up sections where the actual footage looked bad.

Aside from the narration, the introduction feels rushed. They try and touch on every scene (this clearly wants to be a "complete" adaptation), but they're cutting out a great deal of the dialogue. This becomes even more obvious when we get to Marley's ghost. Large, iconic sections are gone, seemingly at random.  The effects for Marley, incidentally... I'm sure they tried their best.

Their take on the Ghost of Christmas Past is somewhat interesting. They went with an actress, but gave the character a masculine voice. That's a reasonable reading of the character, though I'm not sure having them communicate telepathically was a great idea.

We do truncated versions of all the past sequences, including the world's most pared-back version of Fezziwig. I'm assuming they couldn't afford a party, so instead they just had him share a drink with his two employees. The sequence really clashes with the spirit needling Scrooge over the praise heaped upon Fezziwig over a relatively minor act. Here, it really is a trivial thing.

Likewise, the movie overreaches with Belle when it gets to her married life. Her kids are cut, so it's just her and a husband, leaving it ambiguous whether she's even happy with her life.

For the Ghost of Christmas Present, they try to pull off the book sequence (albeit in a less colorful palette, in keeping with the tone), but - again - they don't really have the resources to pull it off. The movie does include the Cratchit children, though their home is way too big and, like everything else, clearly located in a rural area. Fred's party, meanwhile, is reduced to just him and his wife. Because this is aiming to include everything significant, Want and Ignorance show up briefly before Present vanishes.

Visually, the Ghost of Christmas Future is ridiculous. Once again, I think they're trying, but whatever they're hoping to convey doesn't come through. We're left with something that looks like a Spirit Halloween prop.

As before, the movie tries to touch on everything major: the business associates, the pawn shop, the body on the bed, the family celebrating the death of their debtor, the Cratchits, and finally the graveyard. But the pacing is off here, particularly around the Cratchits. The scene takes far too long, and the drama just doesn't translate right. I'm trying not to throw the actors under the bus (particularly because I have no idea how many are professional actors, as opposed to friends or family), but something's really off in these scenes.

When we finally get back to reality, the budget again rears its head, necessitating some narration to cover for a lack of locations. Even so, what is here drags.

A charitable perspective on this might involve looking at it as more a proof of concept than a complete film. And, I think it's worth acknowledging this does demonstrate that A Christmas Carol can support a horror tone throughout. If that was the intent, this succeeds. And, as I mentioned at the top, the score is several steps above the movie it's playing over.

But in most other respects, this just doesn't work. There are many, many adaptations of this book (as I'm all too aware), setting a bar that's hard to clear without money and resources. I respect them for trying, but it's difficult to take an adaptation of A Christmas Carol seriously when its filmed in the middle of summer, to choose just one of many, many shortcomings.

I'm not trying to mock this. I think they were trying to do something interesting with very little money, and it's not at all surprising it didn't come together. But unless you're one hell of a completist when it comes to this stuff or you're incredibly interested in low-budget productions, you're probably not going to get much out of this.