I’ve heard some guys try to explain that the worst thing that can happen on a date is getting stuck in poor conversation for the price of two meals without the hope of sex at the end. The overwhelming response has been to relay a woman’s version of a bad date: getting raped and murdered. The situation can easily turn into a catch-22: it’s easy to be killed in your own home if you invite someone back; if you go to their place, they might have a murder dungeon; have a friend present and you’re weird; be by yourself and you’re open to creepy pressuring and a host of other issues. Personally, I’d be happy being out $75 (or above – let’s not forget how fucking expensive dating can be) if it means I’m not violated or killed, but some individuals have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that a female perspective means that it’s not about the money – sometimes, our worst fear is getting out of modern dating alive and intact. That type of thinking right there is precisely why the “New Year’s Eve” segment of the anthology film Holidays (2016) is so impactful: it manages to articulate the fear by placing the masculine character into first the predator role, then into that of the victim.
Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, the segment first opens on Reggie (Andrew Bowen) holding Mandy (Megan Duffy) hostage. Mandy is bound to a chair and gagged. Reggie has put together a photo album of her on major holidays, manufacturing memories to create the perfect relationship – which he accuses her of ruining, presumably because she’s terrified and crying in each image. He rails at her, “I thought that when you got to know me, when you saw the real me, that you’d… ah, nevermind. Tonight at midnight, I want to kiss someone who makes me feel like I can take the tape off their lips.” He finishes off this rant by shooting her in the head (another fear of ours for when a relationship ends, which plays out in the news far too often). Later, ol’ Reg reveals to new date Jean (Lorenza Izzo) that he met Mandy on a dating app, but she as only an 84% match. Jean is a 96% match for him, which seems pretty promising on paper. Jean laments, “Most guys I date online just want to hook up. One and done.” Their date doesn’t appear to go well: the banter is awkward and he’s far less attractive than she is. He demands to see her teeth at one point, remarking, “You are so much hotter than she was. I mean, prettier.” Reggie doesn’t really seek to get to know Jean’s personality, sizing her up by the dating site numbers and her physical appearance. Internally, the audience is screaming, “Jean, YOU IN DANGER GIRL!” ala Ghost. At the very least, Jean has a creep on her hands; from what we’ve already seen, we know that he’s planning to kill her, too.
The amazing part comes when Reggie sees the contents of Jean’s bathroom and realizes that she kills and dismembers her dates. He’s horrified and caught off guard, spilling the chloroform he had on hand to knock her out, then vomiting at the sight of the decomposing bodies wrapped in plastic in her bathtub (nice touch there, Jean – Marie Kondo that shit). Jean clearly has the upper hand as she attacks him with an axe, then cleaves off one foot. Reggie reaches for his gun, but – as earlier in the segment – he didn’t load it properly, giving Jean enough time to sink her axe into his head. Strangely, this ending is happy: we witness a serial killer getting his comeuppance at the hands of someone who was way more on top of her game. Jean’s happy ending isn’t a kiss with a fellow psychopath; it’s her dancing with her axe, her long hair flowing romantically as she hugs it to her chest.
The fact that this is the happy ending both tickles and terrifies the soul. On one hand, Jean escaped certain death and gave a murderous cretin his just desserts; on the other hand, this date is so many nightmares on so many levels. Complete blunt disclosure: the dating world is rough – there’s constant rating systems for hotness, and any slight disagreement or so-called wrong answers to a potential date can bring on a torrent of verbal and cyber abuse. Every woman (some guys too) I know can tell you about a potential or actual date that freaked out on her with a flood of abuse that ended in either her being told she was ugly/unfuckable or threats of physical violence, including rape and murder. So to see Reggie at first, that’s our worst fear: going out on a date, then getting knocked out, tortured and killed. That’s a very immediate fear for women; that’s our reality, and it throws into contrast how much we both trust and distrust systems that are supposed to help us find love and keep us safe at the same time. We watch knowing that Reggie is going to try something on her after sizing her up and treating her not as a person, but as a match on a piece of paper for his own wants. When we see Jean with her axe though… there’s something magic there. He’s not only getting what he has coming to him – he’s getting outpaced by someone who is frankly better at the game than he is. Jean is a better predator: she’s physically attractive, she can eat (for reals, I want to try to chicken fingers she’s talking about in the diner), she moves faster, and she’s an accurate shot with that axe. Her weapon actually works, which is a damn metaphor if I ever saw one. Jean is the better hunter and executioner. She outwits the guy we’re all afraid of encountering with little effort – even when he throws a piece of broken sink at her, she recovers quickly; the entire fight scene between the pair is under five minutes in total. And that’s hopeful to us ladies out there, because it’s how we deal with the Boogeyman. Reggie is every worst fear about a date: someone who won’t see us as a person, who will physically hurt or even kill us. Jean is thinning that portion of the herd right out, making the world safer for the rest of us. Someone who’s never had that Serial Killer Moment on a date – who’s never had to go through the fear of letting a bartender know you’re worried, who’s never had to frantically call someone to come “bump” into them, who’s never lived the fear of driving home and being followed, who doesn’t have to stock their purse with self-defense items, just in case – watches this segment and experiences a rude awakening to a level of fear they don’t know how to process.
Some say that a better ending would have been for Reggie and Jean to live happily, murderously ever after. That’s where I must disagree. I think this segment ends perfectly. Jean is like the Tinder Avenger: always waiting for that next message, always ready to take someone out, always willing to level the playing field, always willing to add to her collection so that we can sleep a little better. If you’re not used to that level of terror on your dates, it’s a strange experience to witness; if you are, admit it – you cheered a bit.