Once in a while a film comes along that’s so extraordinary, so off the beaten track that you can only marvel that it got made at all. Citizen Kane, for example. Or the films of Bunuel, David Lynch, Fellini and Bergman.
Or a film like Fatman which almost defies description. It opens with Santa Claus having a crisis of faith.
It’s not Santa as we know him though. Santa – Chris to his friends – is played by Mel Gibson as a sort of American backwoodsman, grizzled and armed to the teeth.
His wife Ruth is played by English actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste, last seen in a very peculiar film called In Fabric. Well if you think that was peculiar…
Santa, I mean Chris, is about to have more than a late, midlife crisis. He’s been making a list and checking it more than twice, and there’s a kid called Billy who’s definitely not going to make the “nice” side of the ledger.
Taking a tip from the European traditions of St Nicolas, when young Billy unwraps his Christmas present, it reveals a lump of coal.
Billy has access to the services of a hitman – listed in the credits merely as The Skinny Man. Skinny is played by an actor who made his name playing dangerous hillbillies - that name being Walton Goggins.
OK, so Mr Skinny takes out a contract on the Fatman and heads off to the far North to find Santa’s lair.
Now things get a little complicated, geographically speaking. While Fatman allows that the North Pole is technically in Canada, it’s loath to actually concede that out loud.
Really it should be in the good old US of A. It’s certainly the US Government that Santa Claus turns to when his financial difficulties get out of hand.
The Pentagon outsources certain contracts to Santa and his elves. And at this stage, my grasp on the world of Santa started to loosen a bit.
With Santa and his little helpers supporting the military-industrial complex, who’s minding the toy store? Is this the job of Big Business now?
But we really don’t have time to sort out which precise Santa mythology we’re supposed to be embracing here.
We’ve got a Skinny Man on the loose, getting closer and closer to Santa’s village, and along the way racking up an alarming body count.
This is not a concept we’re particularly used to – “a Christmas Santa movie, punctuated by wholesale slaughter”.
I know some people call the ultra-violent Bruce Willis movie Die Hard a Christmas movie, but no-one was claiming Bruce was playing Father Christmas. And the big question here is “Who on earth is this lunatic concoction aimed at?”
What child wants to see a tooled-up Santa taking out the trash, up against a ruthless serial killer, working for a psychopathic 10-year-old?
What grown-up wants to see it for that matter, particularly when Santa’s played by an angry, depressed Mel Gibson?
Every step of the movie was a step away from anything I wanted to see, and I felt horrified by the psychic harm Fatman was likely to inflict on the two kids sitting behind me.
Fortunately, when the lights came up, they were fast asleep. So, no harm done. I might have been better off following their example.