Even with Michael Dougherty’s Krampus invading theaters this year, Chris Kasick’s Uncle Nick will assuredly be the creepiest Christmas tale of the holiday season. Demonic elves and killer toys might get a few screams, but there’s nothing more horrifying than a drunken Uncle who’s contemplating some inter-step-family boinking. Mike Demski’s screenplay scrutinizes every family-get-together cliché in this Yuletide clusterf#ck, with the sleaze factor jacked up to sloppy, mythical levels of alcoholic debauchery. This is the family dinner every dysfunctional family dreads, especially if memories of Cleveland-based sports teams are only more cause for sadness. Forget about a bad Santa, this Christmas is all about one bad uncle.
Posehn stars as the lewd, crude, and far-too-jolly Uncle Nick, who kicks off his Christmas Eve with a whiskey Old Fashioned that never seems to find itself fully empty. His brother, Cody (Beau Ballinger), invites Nick over to his sugar momma Sophie’s (Paget Brewster) beautiful home, where Cody lives out his days as a trophy husband/aspiring t-shirt mogul. Nick can’t stand his smug brother’s luck, but he’s distracted by Sophie’s hot daughter Valerie (Melia Renee) and the dirty thoughts that fuel his wild fantasies. Maybe Nick’s sister, Michelle (Missi Pyle), and her husband Kevin (Scott Adsit) can talk some sense into the aging Grinch, hopefully before he gets too drunk and ruins the night for everyone.
Uncle Nick benefits from Posehn’s full immersion into a character who could pass as one of his on-stage impressions, from an opening shot that captures a lonely, visibly defeated portrait in all its shirtless glory. Posehn is the creepy Uncle you’re terrified might have three-too-many drinks, complete with a terribly uncomfortable dick-pic fiasco. But, even with his assault on XMas, Nick’s sour attitude still ties into what matters most – family. Those people who accept your sour oafishness with a smile, as you puke out straight liquor before hors-d’oeuvres are even served. Posehn never tries to make Nick likable, and the film benefits mightily from his give-no-shits honesty.
Then again, Demski’s story will divide many viewers based on the retelling of the Cleveland Indian’s infamous ten-cent beer night. It’s easy to tie Posehn’s sports narration with the atrocities plaguing Sophie’s home, as each recounted inning correlates to Nick’s quickly spiralling night, but you’ll need a strong stomach for cringe-worthy awkwardness. The things Nick dreams about – let alone does – are far beyond personal family experiences, and he becomes deplorably cartoonish at times. There’s a message about finding yourself amidst the pile of rubble that now represents your life, but it’s laced with cheating, lying, and misguided hatred that exploits merry ideals. Sophie’s fancy dinner is nothing but a five-star facade of solace, giving way to mean-spirited outbursts that one would expect.
The main problem here is that I’m finding myself trying to think up excuses to boost this review to a 3/5 stars. Straight honesty. Uncle Nick has its heart in the right place – a deranged place, nonetheless – and represents a dark holiday comedy about the perils of family, and the bonds that never break. Kasick embraces chaos, Posehn delivers the anarchy, and we watch Nick evolve from a belligerent man-child into a hungover realist. But we’ve seen it all before, and the experience isn’t exactly laugh-out-loud worthy in its depraved exposure of hidden secrets.
Nick’s antics seem to be overplayed for the sake of piggish disregard, especially since hitting on your teenage step-relative is a hard scenario to sympathize with. Cleveland’s historical recounting slyly counts down towards an inevitable conflict, and the fuse burns with some intrigue, yet it’s not enough to help elevate a fruit-cake-y staleness that begs for more genuine conflicts.
While Michael Dougherty’s Krampus is the go-to Christmas horror film this season, Uncle Nick still has its own terrifying moments of human abandon. We sit, watch, and wince through most of Nick’s ill-advised scheming, growing more and more uncomfortable with each highly inappropriate advance towards Val. There’s redemption at the end of this raucous bender, but we struggle to credit Nick’s salvation with a worthy enough victory for the preceding shots of vomit and dong. I respect its sentiments, and hope more people enjoy this pitch-black look at family dynamics (selfishness/grief/greed/ect), but Uncle Nick is missing something magical that could have saved this bastard holiday watch.
Uncle Nick isn't as off-putting as its disgruntled lead, but unbalanced dark humor and disturbed storytelling don't do much for this alternative holiday disaster.