Christmas shows come in one of three formats. There’s your schmaltzy or child-friendly saccharine stuff; there’s movies that just kinda happen around the festivities (it’s not Christmas until Hans Grüber falls from Nakatomi Plaza); and then there are movies about darkness, blood, and the biting cold. So, welcome to Elves!
Elves (or Nisser, to use the original Danish title) is a Christmas series if The Wicker Man and Gremlins were shoved into a cracker and popped open in the dead, silent forest. Yet, like a Christmas cracker, the anticipation often outweighs what prizes are offered once the smoke has cleared.
We follow a young family who visit the fictional remote island of Aarmandsø, off the coast of the Danish mainland for the holidays. Uber sarcasm Dad, Mads (Peder Thomas Pedersen) makes the immediate mistake of ignoring ‘stick to the coast’ directions to find their holiday cabin, instead driving straight through the deep forest whilst the kids bicker (young daughter Josefine and teenage son Kasper). Except when driving past the area cordoned off by a massive electric fence they appear to hit something…
At six episodes – and short ones at that – Elves doesn’t keep you hanging too long. In Aarmandsø the human population co-exist in an uneasy alliance with the habitants of its forests. Unfortunately for everyone concerned Josefine works out that it wasn’t a pothole that the family drove over. She feels guilty enough to stash what she finds away in a nearby farm shed, unaware that by doing so she has disturbed an ancient truce.
For a show that barely has time to make an impact Elves struggles to pick what angle to take. Hints of closed island mentality are there when the villagers turn a crisis meeting into an eerie ritualistic chant, yet this cult-horror aspect is dropped quickly, like a sacrificial cow, to be eaten up by the short run time.
Village elder, Karen (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen), may issue thinly veiled threats, yet her increasingly desperate actions are pragmatic, not Midsommar levels of blood offerings.
On the other hand, Elves tries to cram in a slasher threat as the first humans get ripped apart. Yet the bloodshed is after the fact and limited to characters we barely get a chance to know before discovering their arterial spray. For a show about death and darkness, very little of either seeps into its folklore draped pine needles.
Is Elves Worth Watching?
If you discard the dabbled with outer shells of Elves to get to its core then you will find an effective creature feature testing the barriers for weaknesses, threatening to break out.
The creature effects are superbly done, ranging from endearing through to an ancient otherworldliness. Jerky movements and ominous rattling creaks imbue Elves with a satisfying build up of threat for when things ultimately go wrong.
Elves is so short you can easily blast through it all in one go, which is the best way to watch.
Despite Josefine making increasingly bad and hard to empathise with choices (Just! Get! In! The! Car! Josefine!) and Kasper’s ‘skip to the end’ attraction to Viv (Karen’s awkward daughter), the show successfully delivers a sense of foreboding that we are, at best, allowed to draw breath only due to the good graces of forces that we have long forgotten.
As the nights draw in, perhaps draw the curtains too. And try not to worry about what you upset when you cut down that tree.
Words by Mike Record