In The Grotto

In The Grotto – the debut feature from Ryan Moloney (31), best known for his work as Jarred ‘Toadfish’ Rebecchi in evergreen Aussie soap Neighbours – is perhaps the single most incoherent, unpleasant, and tedious Christmas film I have ever had the displeasure of watching.

Moloney casts himself as a priapic Santa Claus, engorged member constantly straining against his scarlet trousers, lusting after any living creature that crosses his path in the titular grotto.

The plot, such as it is, centres around his disgruntled elves, who have grown weary of Santa’s constant sexual harassment and inappropriate gutter language in the workplace.

The elves – including Gary Busey, Mariah Carey, Ron Perlman, Scott Baio and Phillip Seymour Hoffman – call an emergency union meeting to vote on strike action, and the majority of the film’s not-inconsiderable running time is devoted to interminable digressions on meeting protocol and voting procedure.

Meanwhile, Santa’s wife – played surprisingly adeptly by P Diddy in drag – has discovered that she has developed explosive telekinetic powers, which she is struggling to control. While this could have been an intriguing metaphorical exploration of a repressed woman’s efforts to assert control over her own life, it is instead used as an excuse to show a seemingly random series of people and objects detonating in super slow motion.

Notwithstanding these ill-judged and poorly executed plot cul-de-sacs, easily the most bizarre moments in the film come courtesy of the inexplicable Pierce Brosnan scenes.

Seemingly shot using low-grade covert surveillance cameras, and almost certainly without Brosnan’s knowledge or consent (in one scene at a Costa Coffee branch, Brosnan appears to spot the camera, possibly hidden in a bag or satchel, and hurls a large Xmas Special cinnamon hot chocolate at its operator, who unleashes a torrent of abuse at the actor whilst fleeing the scene – the accent and inflection suggesting that Moloney himself is responsible for these egregious invasions of privacy) the raw, unedited nature of these numerous segments – accounting for well over a third of the film’s 195 minute running time – provide In The Grotto’s only glimpses of genuine human emotion and pathos.

In the most touching of these – a single, unwavering shot that appears to have been stolen from Brosnan’s own domestic CCTV system – the Irishman sits alone at his breakfast nook, iPad upturned, for 15 to 20 painful minutes, scratching and shaking dandruff from his scalp, and tracing his own autograph repeatedly in the flakes. Towards the end of this narcissistic marathon, the former Remington Steele sneezes, scattering his bodily detritus to the winds, and he erupts in rage, flinging the iPad against the wall and tearing chunks of hair from his head, before curling up in a ball and sobbing for what feels like an eternity under the camera’s unmoving, unflinching gaze.

But then it’s back to the random explosions, union meetings, and unnecessary Santa nudity, before the inevitable compromises, life-lessons, and successful present delivery mean Christmas can go ahead as planned.

A travesty, and a disgrace. Avoid.

By H Anthony Hildebrand

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