Directed by Steven C. Miller
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night is a movie that both delights and disappoints. Delights because Miller continues to prove he’s an amiable genre helmsman – honing his craft here with an atmospheric slasher that accents all the right beats in Jayson Rothwell’s cynical screenplay. Conversely, it’s something of a letdown because, with a little more tweaking, this could’ve been an excellent film.
Loosely inspired by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.’s 1984 classic Silent Night, Deadly Night, this reinterpretation of the concept really doesn’t have much to do with its predecessor. Miller treads respectful ground, tipping his hat to the infamous offering here and there as the story progresses, but this modern day Santa slasher is almost an entirely different animal. And that both helps and hinders the film.
Like the original, a rural town becomes the target of a psychotic killer dressed as Santa Claus. He traipses around murdering those he’s deemed “naughty”, dispatching his victims in all sorts of brutally creative ways. That’s where the similarities end and my biggest gripe with Silent Night begins. It’s apparent that we’re not supposed to give a damn about the victims. Each one is more unlikable than the last, giving the movie no real sense of menace. In the original our resident madman had his own moral code – but it was much more skewered so that he often killed people undeserving of his “punishment”. That made him a much more intimidating villain, albeit a sympathetic one. Here, our maniac is doing this town a favor. Killing excessively bratty kids, local pornographers, perverted priests…the guy’s an anti-hero from the outset.
So while that’s a bit of a detriment to the movie, it’s also kind of the point. Miller’s Silent Night functions as something of an allegorical take on modern day America’s disillusionment with the holiday. Commentary that’s reinforced through an occasionally sly but usually heavy-handed narrative (and in case you didn’t get it, Donal Logue’s final tirade really hammers it home). Either way, the movie has a point to make, offering a thesis beneath its schlocky veneer that helps distinguish Silent Night from its peers. It’s sort of like the Falling Down of slasher films – depicting a man who’s mad as hell and refusing to take it anymore.
While I would’ve liked Silent Night to play a bit more with the killer’s insanity (seeing his ‘code’ deteriorate to the point where he’s killing innocent people, for example), the murderer’s identity sort of reemphasizes the purpose of the film. And credit the filmmakers for outfitting their villain with not only a terrific look but a truly memorable cache of weaponry, too.
As the stressed out local cop, Jaime King is terrific as our leading lady. Sympathetic and vulnerable without being overly-emotional, King carries this film square on her shoulders for much of the duration, and it’s a credit to her performance – and the script’s characterization – that we’ve got a character worth rooting for. Malcolm McDowell comes and goes as the Sheriff and delivers about what you’d expect. Some good lines, but he’s never once believable as this town’s elected peacekeeper.
Miller also outfits his film with some nice Christmas flair, giving it an authentic holiday feel on a microscopic budget. This was filmed quickly and it kind of shows, but it’s Miller’s strengths as a director that prevent it from feeling like a disadvantage. After all, there are still some amusing setpieces here that should make even the most jaded slasher fan grin.
Silent Night isn’t quite the home run I was hoping for. Some of the kills fall flat and a few moments simply don’t work at all (the scene in the church comes to mind), but there’s plenty to enjoy as well. From a likable star to some nasty gore FX and surprisingly palpable holiday atmosphere, this is a fun, if flawed, outing for this time of year. Run it on a double bill with the original for maximum holiday cynicism.
Unfortunately, Anchor Bay decided to skimp on the supplements, choosing to release Silent Night nearly bare bones with only a handful of deleted scenes and a brisk behind-the-scenes featurette to sate you special feature nuts out there. None of this material is particularly interesting, and the exclusion of a commentary track is sorely felt.
Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night is, in its own way, a brutal and amusing reminder of the “real” meaning of Christmas. It stresses the importance of family and loved ones while taking viewers on a killing spree across the darkest corners of small town America. It won’t make anyone forget the original, but it’s an appropriate remake that pays homage without retreading well-worn territory. And while I much prefer the director’s excellent home invasion flick (The Aggression Scale – one of my favorites this year), I can confidently recommend this as well. As long as expectations are properly tempered.
3 out of 5
1 out of 5