We need more great holiday horror, especially for those more unsung holidays, but does “Time’s Up” give us the fireworks we’re looking for?
Time’s Up landed on digital this summer (July 2023). Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.
Why did they have to pick on teachers? Don’t they have it hard enough?
Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone. We are skipping a few key holidays and fast-forwarding a bit to watch the clock countdown in L.C. Holt’s Time’s Up.
With our director also writing and starring in this piece, there’s obviously a lot invested. This twisted tale of holiday horror leads a group of unwilling educators into a scavenger hunt after the tragic loss of a student: play or die (something we have all heard before, sadly).
With hints of originality overshadowed by disappointing formulas and a cast that sometimes didn’t feel as committed as its director, Time’s Up takes a hard swing at mixing up the slasher genre, only to end up more one-note than tour de force.
While some things are done well to its credit, and though this film is lacking the innovation I hoped for, I went ahead to find out who makes it to see the ball drop.
Pristine snow, white-capped trees, and dying leaves in what looks like the dead of winter out past civilization. A boy crunches through the snow, soon taking a seat at the base of a tree, resting. Suddenly, the serene piano and winter’s breeze are broken by a gunshot as the young man ends his life in a moment, leaving the once pure snow now stained red.
I appreciate a strong opener that makes you ask questions and leaves you heartbroken.
This scene ends and brings us to the opening credits lit with now cheerless celebratory fireworks.
We are suddenly bombarded with video testimonials of various adults and children discussing bullying all with varying and sometimes upsetting takes. It seems there’s a controversy surrounding this death on all sides.
One night, as janitors clean the auditorium and discuss the school’s general shadiness, a couple breaks in, watching a video about how Pine Falls is a “hierarchy” and some people, including the deceased, Alex (Tyler Senatore), don’t fit in. The couple (and their very silly dialogue) are interrupted as a friend sneaks up wearing a creepy mask.
After scaring the couple out in the hall as the prankster is on his way, he is confronted by a janitor, and quickly, from behind, the boy’s head is caved in by a newly arrived killer.
Back in the auditorium, wearing the prankster’s eerie Father Time mask and wielding what looks like a scythe, the festive assailant prepares to strike again.
Cutting away, we join Tony (L.C. Holt) and Jacqui (Hannah Fierman), nervously discussing a party.
Jacqui has recently made waves at her job, and while they get a warm welcome from their hostess, Rachel (Kamarra Cole), the party clears out the moment the couple arrives.
The remaining members greet the couple coldly, asking Jacqui how the “newspaper business” is going, with one member, Cliff (Damian Maffei), making his disdain apparent.
The girls excuse themselves from tense banter and pointed jokes towards Jacqui. After some side chat, the two make their way back to the gathering, where Cliff is ready to fight after Jacqui suggests a New Year’s resolution to be kinder. He read her article documenting the suicide of a student as a result of bullying, which he saw as a personal attack.
Allowing someone on the “bandwagon” a voice, calling Jacqui a “saint” for targeting the school, especially its teachers. Cliff, a bully in his own right, and Gene (Johnathan Tiersten), a real saint himself as Principal, say that they believe there are more factors here and even say that their past actions never caused anyone to harm themselves.
It’s just as uncomfortable as you imagine watching grown men have the “locker room talk” discussion around lives they potentially ruined and shows that old habits die hard.
As the group breaks up again, there’s a knock at the door and a perfectly wrapped gift left on the porch for Gene to bring in. Inside, there’s a note that says “Time to Play” and a single word, “maraschino.”
From here, this movie follows the slasher formula to an unfortunate tee.
Even with some additional, unique details, it couldn’t quite overcome the prescribed structure of slasher films to break new ground in this crowded, formulaic genre where you cannot afford not to stand out.
The scavenger hunt was a nice element, and there are small, prominent choices, such as some original kills, picking a lesser loved holiday to add a little extra flair, and shout-outs, such as having the couple hide in the Stephen King section.
The ideas were there, but the plot consistently fell victim to familiar tropes and hollow motives.
The younger cast members, such as Senatore and Madison Edmunds as the activist-minded Elisha, put on a good show as the two outsiders of the school, while Maffei as Cliff shoulders the strongest performance of the adult cast members, playing a version of every grownup meathead you ever wanted to knock out back in high school.
The rest of the cast serves their purpose, but many lines land flat or fall into the cliche.
Practical effects are on full display here, and gore hounds might be interested to see a scavenger hunt littered with corpses with perfectly realistic wounds with the marks of brutal force. Everyone else may not want to spend much time on Time’s Up.