It’s night, and a gang of outlaws charge through the streets of a medieval village, led by a man in a bishop’s outfit, to attach a list of demands on a door before retreating to their ship. The villagers are tired of this gang’s demands, and prove themselves surprisingly adept at murder when they burn the gang’s ship, killing all the bad guys.
Including Santa Claus.
Sint is a Dutch movie with terrible dubbing based on the original folklore surrounding Sinterklaas, the source of our Western image of Santa Claus, but with a twist. In this story, the patron saint of sailors had forsaken his faith in order to join up with some pirates, and after his death, returns to slay innocents whenever there is a full moon on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day.
This first slaughter happens during a flashback to the 1960s. A family is gathered in their home with the children singing carols while the father watches TV and the mother cooks. Their pantry is stocked with tons of pickled food, and the camera swings in to show a creepy face hiding behind the jars. The older boy, Goert, is sent out to feed the pigs, and that is when St. Nick and gang sweep in and brutally murder his entire family. He gets back in time to see zombie Nick prancing his white horse around on the roof of his family’s house. Inside, he runs into his dying mother before stumbling around, looking at all the dead brothers and sisters he had just left.
Flash forward to 2010, and we’re treated to some serious cultural differences. A girl reads a poem full of double entendres to a class while the teacher smirks behind her. She unwraps a present and reveals a purple dildo, while everyone laughs. She smacks a classmate with it on the way back to her seat, and the teacher laughs over how they had more dildos this year than last, and everyone laughs some more. Is this a normal thing in Dutch schools? Are there other holidays where dildos are presented in public? I have questions!
Next up is Frank, our protagonist (I think). His giant present turns out to be all his belongings, returned to him by his girlfriend, Sophie, as she breaks up with him in front of the entire class for cheating on her. We then follow Sophie and her two friends, who snicker over Sophie’s confession of her own infidelity in a way that assures us they’ll be the first to die. There’re some side scenes where you learn that one of the friends, Lisa, is sleeping with Frank, no one in this movie is particularly nice, and the boy Goert has grown up to be a paranoid cop who isn’t taken seriously, especially after he walks into the squad room and shoots up the gift his fellow officers left on his desk (it was wine). His boss prudently sends Goert on a vacation until all this upsetting Saint Nicholas Day stuff blows over.
Meanwhile Frank and his buddies dress up as Saint Nicholas and Co. to go to a party, and here’s where we run full tilt into racism.
The “Co.” part refers to Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter. He’s one of several possible companions to Saint Nicholas, who has taken on the more unsavory punishment aspects from the saint. While other countries have Krampus, a demonic creature alternately enslaved by or accompanying Saint Nicholas to leave coal, birch switches, or outright kidnap bad children, Zwarte Piet is a Dutch tradition based on Saint Nicholas having a Moor as a companion. They retire to Spain when not dispensing gifts, so it makes sense that Zwarte Piet is his black servant? It is sometimes claimed that Peter is not a black person, but is instead covered in soot from his trips down chimneys. Riiight.
So the guys in the film literally paint their faces with shoe polish and put on their jaunty Renaissance style costumes, and make dumb jokes about their GPS. I don’t need to mention that everyone in this movie is white, do I? I didn’t think so. Of course these Zwarte Piets are blackened and crispy because they were burned to death, not because of any troubling racist tropes or anything.
Back in town Sophie is getting high on her couch while talking to Lisa, who is wrapping presents for her family. Part of the tradition is to write little poems to go with the Saint Nicholas Day gifts, so Lisa is trying to think of something that rhymes with “prostate.” She is wrapping her dad’s gift, after all. Then the slaughter begins. Not even Sophie’s innocent little brother, who she is babysitting, is spared, and poor Lisa discovers the bodies.
After this, the movie pretty much deteriorates into your standard slasher flick, where the slutty girls who like the sex too much are slaughtered, the blackface dudes are torn apart, and no one will listen to Goert, even though he’s a cop. But there are two things that stand out: first, Saint Nicholas rides his horse like a badass across the roofs of the town. Full on gallop, roof tiles clattering, leaping streets, I mean, it’s really cool. The second thing happens when Saint Nicholas rides into a hospital wing full of sick little girls, who giggle happily at the horse and the familiar figure, until he gets closer. They scream when they see his zombie face and pull the sheets over their heads as it fades to black. So, to spoil it for you, Saint Nicholas kills those kids. Yeah. It happens off-screen, but it still was a little shocking to realize they had gone through with it.
The movie careens around with Frank surviving three encounters with zombie Claus through sheer blind luck. Shooting the zombies has no effect, and the killer saint has a shepherd’s staff that is some kind of cool auto-decapitator, so it starting to look like they’re unstoppable. It turns out Nick and the crispy pirates are still vulnerable to fire, however, and Goert sacrifices himself to explode them all, except he only blows up the boat and Saint Nicholas rides off into the foggy night, sure to return again. We then see Frank in the hospital watching TV, which is where we see the news coverage confirming that Zombie Nick killed the little kids, when Lisa shows up. She refers to herself as a present and straddles Frank in the hospital bed before whipping off her shirt.
I’m still unclear why Frank was the hero of this. He cheated on his girlfriend with her friend, was a dick to his friends, seems unaffected by their deaths, and remained alive through other’s sacrifice, yet he’s still rewarded with his life and sex. Plenty of real innocents died, but this bland coward is who we’re supposed to root for. In American slasher movies, it’s usually the girl who refrained from indulging in drugs or sex who survives, yet here, there’s nothing to set Frank apart. These deaths aren’t punishments for one’s individual sins; it’s closer to the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but here an entire city stands in for the guilty parents and our hero isn’t connected to the bad guy’s death in any way. The filmmakers effectively brought out elements of the folklore surrounding Saint Nicholas, and while it was cool to see the nod to the darker aspects of the original story, I never really understood why they had him fall from grace to begin with. It would seem their whole idea was just to make a movie where the undead Saint Nicholas kills people, with no underlying meaning or nuance.
I was rooting for the horse the whole time. At least he didn’t use blackface or cheat on anyone, and he danced across those tiled roofs with style.