As the holiday season commences, Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas lineup is really getting into the swing of things. Fans of the channel will start recognizing familiar faces including the queen of holiday movies herself, Lacey Chabert. She pulls a double-header this year, starring in two different original movies (including one with a Party of Five co-star) that have now been released. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated sequel, Haul Out the Holly: Lit Up, doesn’t feel like one of the network’s signature yuletide flicks.
Set a year after the events of 2022’s Haul Out the Holly, the new movie follows Emily (Lacey Chabert) and Jared (Wes Brown) as they plan to spend their first holiday as a couple. Following in her parents’ footsteps, Emily takes control of Evergreen Lane’s festive activities. At least, that’s the plan until a new family, who made it big in the holiday world as reality stars, moves in next door and wants to shake the proceedings up.
After the success of the first film, I had high hopes for the sequel. Unfortunately, I was left feeling like I watched a mid-tier holiday movie on a streaming service, instead of the Hallmark variety I’ve come to love — and there are two important reasons for that.
There Wasn’t Enough Romance
The challenge with many romance movie sequels is that in most cases, the couple at the center of the first flick is already together. There’s no fun and games, as we watch them pine or deny their feelings for one another. Without the “will-they, won’t-they” relationship stakes, you’re just left watching two characters who get along well, which doesn’t create much tension or excitement.
The two lead actors in Lit Up have amazing chemistry as Emily and Jared, but they spend most of the movie apart. Emily was busy trying to regain control of the Evergreen Lane festive schedule. Meanwhile, Jared juggled the duties that came with being the president of HOA while also trying to plan the perfect proposal for Emily. Unfortunately, those subplots resulted in them not having many scenes together, much to my disappointment.
A Hallmark Christmas movie without the romance just doesn’t feel right! When I tune into the channel, I want swoon-worthy, albeit cheesy, love stories. It would have been nice for Haul Out The Holly: Lit Up to stick to the perfect Hallmark Christmas movie formula they’ve perfected, while still putting a unique spin on it.
There Was A Clear Antagonist Who Took The Hallmark Magic Away
When it comes to these movies, there’s always an antagonist. Sometimes it’s an ex back in sometimes hometown or even a needy boss. Another obstacle would be ticking clock of some sort requiring the protagonist to make a life-changing decision, and even an internal, emotional struggle can gum up the works. Whatever the case, the antagonist or antagonistic force is usually distant from the main character. We hear from them in phone conversations, and they make an appearance maybe three times (maybe) but, other than that, they’re usually not part of the meat of the story.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Haul Out The Holly: Lit Up. Not only is the antagonist front and center this time, but it’s also an entire family! From the minute the Jolly Johnsons appear, they serve as agents of chaos to Emily and Evergreen Lane’s traditions. Fresh off of winning some holiday reality TV competition, they’re ready to show off their holiday spirit, even if it means clashing with Emily and the rest of the town’s residents.
What happens next is an endless battle between the two parties. Emily tries to regain control, while the Johnsons stage a holiday coup of sorts, turning everything and anything into a holiday challenge. There’s simply nothing magical about watching everyone bicker over gingerbread houses or seeing a couple get ambushed with snowballs.
All the unfriendly competition had me reaching for the remote to check to see if I was still watching a movie on the fan-favorite network. Had Haul Out The Holly: Lit Up been a Netflix holiday movie or some other streaming production, it actually would have worked. But as a Hallmark movie, it just didn’t deliver on that perfect holiday film formula, well, and I was left very disappointed.
You can catch reruns of Haul Out The Holly: Lit Up on The Hallmark Channel, or see it with a fuboTV subscription. And don’t forget to stay up to date by checking out the schedule of upcoming Hallmark movies list and 2023 Christmas movie schedule.