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25 Days of Bingemas, Day 19: ‘Haul Out the Holly’

Lacey Chabert (the true queen of Hallmark Christmas movies) is being tricked and forced and gaslit in a plot that is wildly reminiscent of ‘Midsommar’

Getty Images-Hallmark Channel-Ringer illustration

The Ringer’s 25 Days of Bingemas is a guide for people who love original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who hate original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who occasionally watch these movies and want more; it’s a guide for people who never hope to watch these movies but would like to watch one writer descend into madness as she attempts to differentiate between 25 unique forms of holiday magic, 12 different fake countries, and eight different male leads who make you wonder, “Wait, is that the guy from Mean Girls?” (It isn’t, except for that one time when it is.) Every day for the next 25 days, Jodi Walker will feature one of this season’s 169 original holiday movies, answering a curated series of questions in order to showcase the genre’s masterful formula, the dedication to chaos, and the commitment to consistently widowing lumberjacks that launched an entire genre of TV movie. On the 19th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …

What are we watching?

Haul Out the Holly.

Where are we watching it?


Why are we watching it?

Because, per Hallmark, “When Emily unexpectedly spends the holidays alone at her parents’ house, their HOA insists that she participate in its many Christmas festivities.”

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

There are no Vanessa Hudgenses in this movie. Luckily, nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit quite like sticking it to Candace Cameron Bure, which is why I’m especially thrilled to welcome our first Lacey Chabert—the actual queen of Hallmark, long may she reign—feature to Bingemas. Her character Emily kicks us off with an especially harrowing quote:

“Every [day] I’m faced with the same question: Is [Bingemas] merely the longest to-do list of all time, or is all this work actually fun? —Lacey Chabert” —Jodi Walker

Is there a villain who sows discord?

It’s rare to kick off a Hallmark movie plot with the villain, but there’s no denying it: Emily’s parents are monsters. Their behavior throughout this movie is honestly fucked. The film opens on a young Emily running through her house on Christmas morning looking for her parents, only to find out she’s in the home alone because they’ve been outside readying the neighborhood for a Christmas parade. The only present they give her is a Polaroid camera with the instruction that she take photos of other people enjoying Christmas morning as part of her “duty” to the neighborhood. This casual childhood trauma has put Emily off on returning home for Christmas in her adulthood, but when she unexpectedly breaks up with her boyfriend, her parents invite her to come back. They say they’ll make her cookies and take care of her, and they won’t pressure her to participate in the neighborhood activities if she doesn’t want to …

But then when Emily shows up, her parents—with maniacal smiles on their faces—tell her that they’ve lied to her: They’re actually going to Florida for Christmas, and she’ll be in her childhood home all alone for the holidays. Over time, it becomes clear that they’ve done this in order to force Emily to adopt Christmas with their unnerving level of spirit. That, my friends, is what we call coercion, and it brings an extremely dark undertone to this otherwise pretty jolly movie. There’s also some light suggestion that Emily has been brought there specifically to mate with neighborhood golden boy Jared, the whole neighborhood is in on this plan, and they’re all working together to keep her there. And if you’re wondering if that’s the plot of Midsommar—well, this isn’t the last time you’ll be reminded of a Florence Pugh film in which the heroine is unknowingly indoctrinated into a cult.

Who’s dead?

I have exclusively murderous feelgins toward Emily’s parents—does that count?

Are there any fake towns, or perhaps a whole fake country?

No one’s holiday spirit could stand up to Evergreen Lane (I think a suburb of Salt Lake City), which has been living under the authoritarian HOA regime of Emily’s parents for the past 30 years. Apparently when they moved there, they personally instilled a myriad of rules revolving around the holidays, including mandatory house decoration and compulsory participation in multiple Christmas contests. There are more than a few rules about the size of decorative nutcrackers, the implementation of which certainly made me want to crack a few nuts.

How problematic is the meet-cute on a scale of “one saved the other from falling in a snowbank” to “one is the other’s boss and they fall in love on a work trip”?

Obviously this is building to a frustrating premise that is saved only by the fact that Lacey Chabert’s and Wes Brown’s characters are cute childhood best friends who are now slightly feuding over the fact that Emily’s parents have left her with a completely undecorated house. New HOA president Jared shows up at Emily’s door over and over with decoration-related citations, but every time he whips out that tape measure to assess her nutcrackers, it feels distinctly like foreplay. Jared’s adherence to the absurd rules implemented by Emily’s parents is annoying, but Emily seems to find his absolute goober mentality endearing, which can mean only one thing: She’s been horny for this guy for years, and her ex-boyfriend doesn’t not look like him.

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Get this—Jared is an architect. And unlike being a lady architect, where it becomes people’s mission to curb your ambition and convince you to settle down in Bumfuck, Sweden, a male architect is actually a desirable occupation that everyone mentions constantly in order to get you to do the maypole dance, marry the HOA president, and stay in Evergreen Lane forever. Unfortunately, that’s probably pretty feasible for Emily to do as a freelance copy editor, but girl—run.

Is there any singing/crafting/baking/blogging?

The movie’s saving grace is its neighborhood full of kooky misfits played by great character actors like Stephen Tobolowsky and Melissa Peterman. Between those two and the rest of the HOA board, there’s baking, singing, so much crafting, and something called a “snowman tableau” where everyone makes snowmen out of what are very clearly styrofoam balls. However, at one point, Emily willingly goes into a basement with Stephen Tobolowsky where he initiates her into “Team Kringle.” Because even if these neighbors are kind of fun when they take you into their basements for a secret ceremony without explanation, we can’t forget that when Jared first showed up at Emily’s door and she wondered how he knew she was there, he responds, “All eyes have been on you since you passed over the point on the mountain.” Cool, cool, cool.

Does anything tip the scales from G to PG?

Absolutely not. Jared barely functions as a romantic lead. His devotion to the HOA rules is full clownery and he spends most of the movie dreaming about being Santa Claus. Not playing Santa—actually being Santa. It takes work for a Hallmark movie to make having Christmas cheer unattractive, but this one really goes for it. When Emily and Jared finally kiss, it is at least not mandated by any neighborhood mistletoe, but it was planned, orchestrated, and monitored by her weirdo parents.

What is the meaning of Christmas, as stated by the film?

After Emily has decorated her parents’ house, participated in every neighborhood contest, and wrestled her future groom into his dream Santa suit, Emily tells Jared that it’s become clear to her that people truly want to live under the watchful eye of Evergreen Lane. She calls her parents and tells them, “I think I finally understand why you made service such a priority during the holidays.” It is then—and only then—that Emily’s parents return home and give her their Christmas gift: the keys to their $1 million home as a reward for bending to their will. And in the holiday-horror sequel I’m writing, no one outside of Evergreen Lane ever heard from Emily Monroe again.