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Steve Le Marquand in 'Christmess' (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography

New Aussie Flick ‘Christmess’ Nails the Sublime Awkwardness of the Holidays


If Christmas at my family’s place has taught me anything, it’s that starting out with the best of intentions isn’t always a surefire recipe for success. What begins strong can often go south and sometimes all it takes is a few too many tinnies and a snide remark about the turkey roast to turn a family gathering into a full-blown war of words. It’s true, while the holiday season is meant to be about family and togetherness, the annual get-together regularly reminds us of why we moved away in the first place. It’s precisely this experience that one Aussie filmmaker is trying to capture.

Steve Le Marquand, Darren Gilshenan and Hannah Joy in 'Christmess' (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography
Steve Le Marquand, Darren Gilshenan and Hannah Joy in ‘Christmess’ (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography

Heath Davis is the writer and director of the upcoming holiday flick Christmess and his approach to the genre is refreshingly honest. Inspired by the “anxiety-inducing” realities of family relations, Davis has joined forces with Australian cinema and music royalty for a bold new take on the classic tale, replete with a down-on-his-luck strip mall Santa on the redemption path.

“Each Christmas I watch Christmas-themed movies and none of them ever ring true to my experience or many others I know,” Davis tells me. “Christmas can be an incredibly difficult, anxiety-inducing and lonely time for a lot of people. And we all turn to booze just to survive it. So I wanted to tell an honest Christmas film for a change.”

Hannah Joy in 'Christmess' (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography
Hannah Joy in ‘Christmess’ (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography

Arriving just in time for the holiday period, Christmess follows Chris Flint, a once-famous actor battling severe alcohol addiction. After a stint in rehab, Chris takes a job as a strip-mall Santa Claus, leading to a chance encounter with his estranged daughter. Seeing himself at rock bottom, the anti-hero turns to his sponsor and a sharp-tongued musician in recovery, played by real-life alt-rocker and Middle Kids singer Hannah Joy in her screen debut, to win his daughter’s forgiveness.

It’s a heavy subject matter for the holiday period, but the performances from Joy and comedy star Darren Gilshenan add a surprising level of warmth. What was important to Davis was to create an authentic view of the Australian experience, warts and all.

“I really want to tell people that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, lost and melancholy at Christmas because you’re are not alone,” Davis says. “A lot of people feel the same it’s just not cool to talk about it. The sentiment of Christmas and the reality of Christmas are vastly different things. The notion of the Hallmark happy family ideal is a fantasy.”

“I didn’t want to make it all doom and gloom, either,” he continued. “There’s a lot of black humour that underpins the drama. I think a lot of people – especially men – are going to really dig it, especially the bromance.”

Hannah Joy and Steve Le Marquand in 'Christmess' (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography
Hannah Joy and Steve Le Marquand in ‘Christmess’ (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography

With a stellar cast of Aussie talent, Christmess is firming as a unique beacon on the entertainment horizon and lead actor Steve Le Marquand is the driving force. The opening trailer teases a knockout performance by an actor firmly on-song, and what’s more, his transformation into the beleaguered hero came almost as second nature. In a fortuitous twist of luck, frequent collaborator, Davis revealed that the Last Train to Freo star’s first job out of acting school was a shopping centre Santa.

“I’ve used Steve in all my pictures since our first collaboration, Broke,” Davis says. “Steve oozes truth and embodies the everyday man better than anyone. There’s just so much going on behind the eyes all the time. And he’s also very funny without ever playing the joke.”

The official trailer for Christmess dropped early this month, with the Aussie flick set to premiere at the prestigious Austin Film Festival later this month. It will hit select cinemas across Australia on November 30.

Steve Le Marquand in 'Christmess' (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography
Steve Le Marquand in ‘Christmess’ (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography
Hannah Joy in 'Christmess' (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography
Hannah Joy in ‘Christmess’ (2023) | Image: Sie Kitts Photography