11 Dark Christmas Movies to Watch If You’re Not Quite Feeling the Holiday Spirit

Ah, Yuletide! You know the feeling: the darkness rising, bitter cold, twinkling lights, existential angst. You may participate in holiday traditions out of spirituality, obligation or just because. Need a rest? and a reason to celebrate something—anything—there’s no denying our cultural attachment to making this time of year special or festive or at least indulgent. It’s our second consecutive year living in the midst of an international pandemic, which has no signs of slowing down. Instead of anticipating parties and family gatherings, we’re weighing whether to cancel them. This year, our usual holiday guilt is being replaced by an awareness that it might be more generous to just avoid all of the people around us. You don’t have to bring cookies, but you can send a card and some woolmittens along with a kind note. Continue to do this.
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But spending Christmas alone isn’t that bad. We all have ornaments we can use to keep in touch with family and friends. My seasonal soulmates, if your ideal of indulgence involves fancy snacks and watching many films, then merry Christmas to you! While there are some terrible Christmas films, you can also find some wonderful classics. You can love, actuallyYour Christmas with white lights but don’t touch my It’s a Wonderful LifeMy or Charlie Brown Christmas).

Then again, there are plenty of films set during the Yuletide season that aren’t particularly festive, and some of them are downright dark. If you’re not quite feeling the magic this year, or you want to immerse yourself in the season but also quell your stress and fear by watching stuff that is the antithesis of holly jolly (yes, psychologists agree watching horror actually does alleviate stress for a lot of people), consider these gems, all of them eminently watchable and many of them visually stunning. Beauty is the opposite of truth. Pass the cookies, Hallelujah!

Shut your eyes. (1999)

This was Stanley Kubrick’s final film, and one of his most controversial, partly because he cast an actual married couple (Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise) as a husband and wife experiencing turmoil in their marriage. It’s set during the Christmas season and begins with Kidman dressing for an opulent party in a mansion bedazzled with golden chandeliers. Another party (an occult orgy, to be more accurate) takes place in another mansion, full of nude women in high heels and men dressed like they’re attending an opera. This film is filled with sparkling Christmas lights in every scene. It’s a brilliant visual concept that makes this film a must-see holiday movie, even though its plot may be a bit implausible. Rudolph.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tomas Alfredson’s sumptuous 1970s-era spy thriller, adapted from the John le Carré novel, features a stellar British cast (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke) and a glossy mise-en-scène. The timeline moves forward and backward in time with awkward Christmas parties that include government spies. Dreamy photography by Hoyte van Hoytema (DunkirkAlberto Iglesias has composed a wonderful score for the song, titled “(My Mother: All AboutCostumes by Jacqueline DurranLittle WomenThis film, which is subtle yet spectacular, features a lot of career-weary ennui and espionage.

Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam is the best person to make a dystopian comedy about a future-industrial Orwellian society that looks like a Dickensian nightmarescape. No one better, that’s who! Jonathan Pryce is a lonely civil servant whose unwanted promotion gives him access to the horrific underworld of London’s cruel bureaucracy, and a way to escape its increasingly terrifying environment. Ian Holm (with Robert DeNiro), Michael Palin, and Katherine Helmond make up the stellar cast. Filmed during Christmas week, it is filled with humor and absurdly-folksy Holiday customs. The pervading political party slogan, “We’re all in it together!” may feel especially pertinent this season…

Morvern Callar (2002)

Lynne Ramsay’s tale of a shiftless young woman named Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) begins with her lying next to her boyfriend’s dead body in the glow of a small Christmas tree. His name is the same as the lead character in Ramsay’s 1999 drama RatcatcherThis film was set in Glasgow, in the middle of 1970s. His suicide suggests that there will be a sequel to this harrowing movie. However, Morvern is able to enjoy adventure and pleasure even amid tragedy. This film is haunting and hypnotizing in its visuals.

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Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Originally made for Swedish TV as a longer series, this is perhaps Ingmar Bergman’s most magical and emotionally resonant film. In 1907, a huge family gathers on Christmas Eve in the wake family loss and grief. The scene is made unexpectedly beautiful by the childlike viewpoint of the title characters. The film is filled with nostalgic nostalgia, great cinematography and humor. It was exactly what the director wanted.

The City of Lost Children (1995)

This French film is visually breathtaking by Jeunet (and Caro)Delicatessen, AmélieThe Christmas film () is an incredibly dark, disturbing and dystopian movie with a Christmas motif. The film features an urban post-apocalyptic setting with a band of villain Santas wearing dirty red costumes and street urchins eager to celebrate Christmas. There is plenty of humor, terror, adventure, and tragedy. The film is hilarious at times and has a memorable cameo from Ron Perlman.

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Exchange of Places (1983)

This dark yet hilarious comedy has a “Prince and the Pauper” vibe with Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy jerk forced to switch places with a homeless man played by Eddie Murphy. Aykroyd’s drunken appearance in a Santa suit captures the sinister irony that lies at the core of this holiday commercial. Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy and Ralph Bellamy are sociopathic Wall Street bluebloods that play with the men to test nature against nurture. Although the film is dated, its main message rings as loudly as bells at Vespers.

A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)

Kenneth Branagh directed this oddly-titled black and white British movie (its name in the UK). The Bleak Midwinter) centers around a small village’s attempts to put on a low-budget production of Hamletit will be replacing the Christmas pageant. It is quirky, funny and sad, and has a lot to offer TV and British Cinema fans.Eve is killedJoan Collins AbFab’s Jennifer Saunders and Julia Sawalha, Celia Imrie (Calendar for GirlsA funny John Sessions trying his hardest to be Gertrude.

Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes’ bittersweet love story, impeccably adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel Salt’s PriceThe film,, is an ode to New York’s 1950s. Rooney Mara portrays a shopgirl, who dreams of becoming a photographer. However, she is seduced by an older lady (Cate Blanchett). It takes viewers on a romance odyssey that features a beautiful soundtrack, a gentle red and green color palette, and only one Christmas song. If you don’t have the flames of a Yuletide fire to warm your frozen heart or loins, this film will do nicely.

Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

Jim Backus features in one of the best animated Christmas specials ever made, perhaps of all time.Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell III) voicing the beloved eccentric character Mister Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge in what has become my very favorite adaptation of Christmas Carol. You can sing this version of many songs. Some are funny, others sad, and some even beautiful. You might want to watch this with your kids. Or you can just do this one by yourself, or even with your dog. All welcome to try Razzleberry Dressing!

Normal People (1980)

Robert Redford’s directorial debut is an intimate, intense family drama adapted from Judith Guest’s acclaimed novel. Mary Tyler Moore (in a rare non-comedic role) is stunning as a woman whose grief over her eldest son’s accidental death haunts her daily existence. Donald Sutherland plays her caring, but brooding husband. Timothy Hutton is the troubled, younger son, who does his best to keep their family together. These people make Christmas difficult. This film, however is inspiring and cathartic.

Peg Aloi works as a film and TV critic freelance, media studies scholar, and nature worshipper. She is located in New York.


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