Review: Cynical and Brutal, Fatman Imagines a Dark, Violent Version of the Christmas Spirit

For those who enjoy their Christmas movies dark and really bloody (gather the children), writers/directors/brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms (who did the excellent Small Town Crime a couple of years ago) have gifted us Fatman, a movie that lets us know that Santa Claus is subject to the some economic woes as anyone else in the world, especially when the Christmas spirit is lagging and people aren’t buying as many presents each year.

Image courtesy of Saban Films

Living at his home (in the upper reaches of Canada, apparently), Chris Kringle (a white-bearded Mel Gibson, looking more like a militia man lumberjack than jolly fat man) has been watching his business dwindle over the years to the point where he can’t afford the pay the bills he racks up for supplies needed to build the presents he’s still obligated to deliver. Taking advantage of his desperation, the U.S. military offers Santa a contract to build the control panel for wartime drones for a hefty sum, and he has little option but to take it and put his elves to work in the off season. Ruth (aka Mrs. Claus, aka Marianne Jean-Baptiste) realizes that the situation isn’t idea, but she understands what her husband must do. This version of Kringle isn’t particularly festive. He doesn’t wear a red suit (at least not on camera), and his house is just a house. The toy factory is hidden underground where the elves seem happy to be working for snacks year-round.

In the real world, we meet overachieving 12-year-old Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), who is a little shit of the highest order. He has abandonment issues thanks to his rich daddy, he bosses around the help like a slave master, and he even threatens the life of a classmate when he comes in second place in the school science fair. But when he gets a lump of coal as a Christmas present, he’s so furious that he hires a professional—and extremely sadistic—hitman (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa himself. It turns out Goggins already has issues with Santa going back to his own childhood, so finally tracking the fat man down is nothing but pure pleasure.

On the heels of just seeing Kurt Russell really lean into the magic of Santa Claus in The Christmas Chronicles sequel, it was fascinating to watch Fatman, a very different take on the gift giver and a film that tackles some of the same elements of the Santa mythology but treats them very seriously. Santa is wounded during his most recent Christmas outing because kids were shooting BB guns at him. He has a quick-healing bit of magic at his disposal, but that doesn’t keep his injuries from hurting for a while. The film is almost too cynical for its own good, and very few of the attempts at humor really land, but I admire the guts to give this version of Santa a chance—both from the filmmakers’ and Gibson’s perspective. They had to know going in that a lot of people were not going to like seeing their precious Santa Claus swearing, bleeding, killing, and even in the throes of post-coital bliss.

I rarely say this, but Goggins is perhaps overplaying his bad-guy role a tad much. From the way he dresses to his delivery, everything is turned up beyond 11, and it eventually wore me down. And the character of Billy is so hateful, we don’t feel the least bit bad that his father regularly chooses to be with his half-his-age girlfriend in the tropics rather than with this little bastard. With all of the main characters adopting a surly demeanor, Fatman is a tough story to penetrate and feel anything for any of the characters. Ultimately, it’s not a great movie, but like their previous effort, the filmmakers take a familiar genre (in that case, the crime drama) and turn it on its head in a somewhat brutal but admittedly original way. The attempt doesn’t work entirely, but it’s a noble effort, which is truly rare in Christmas movies.

The film is now available on VOD.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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