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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Silent Night Movie Review

Maybe you're not a fan of the holiday season, but chances are that the irritations and discomforts awaiting you over the next few weeks are nothing compared to what the citizens of Cryer, Wisconsin are going through in "Silent Night".  You see, they've got a vengeful serial killer on their hands, it's Christmas eve, and the murderer is stalking the streets dressed like Santa Claus.  "Silent Night", an updated take on the 1984 slasher flick, "Silent Night, Deadly Night", follows every twist and turn of this deadly Santa's path of destruction through the small, downtrodden milll town.  As it turns out, Santa's got some extreme ideas about who's been naughty and who's been nice (hint: the nice list is pretty short).

"Silent Night" opens with a gruesome murder-by-electrocution of one of  Cryer's deputy sheriffs (Brendan Fehr), who has apparently been targeted because he's having an affair.  The slaying is perpetrated via an innocuously cheerful string of Christmas lights, by a fellow we've just watched get dressed up as Santa Claus.   The sequence provides a template for most of the murders to follow: 1) they involve townsfolk who haven't been on their best behavior, 2) they are committed by a hulking, silent killer dressed as Santa Claus, and 3) many employ trappings associated with the holiday season.  It's a setup that could turn cartoonish fairly easily, but "Silent Night" retains the stripped-down feel of 70s and early 80s horror movies, and the utter lack of the ironic smirkiness seen in so many genre movies post-Kevin Williamson ("Scream") foregrounds the brutality on display here.  Make no mistake,  this is an old-school horror movie: characters are disemboweled, set on fire, and shoved feet-first into a wood chipper, without the benefit of goofy punchlines or mockingly self-aware asides to break up the tension and provide some distance from the action.

Viewers who are up for such an experience will be well-served by "Silent Night", which plunges forward with a singular focus and doesn't dwell overmuch on backstory.  Thus we meet the town's other deputy, Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King), who's young and maybe new on the job, and there are hints that she has lost her husband through some work-related snafu, but it's never clear just what the story is.  Does it really matter?  No; what's important is that Aubrey is clear-headed and unflappable, and she's the first to figure out that there's something unsavory going on in town.  Unsavory really is the best word here, as each grisly murder is preceded by a peek at things best left behind closed doors: there's an x-rated photo shoot at a seedy motel, a priest stealing from the collection box and leering at young girls, and a teenager visiting his sick grandfather just to rummage in the old man's wallet.  Add in an economically downsized drug dealer (Mike O'Brien) and a cynical traveling Santa (Donal Logue) who dispenses sour advice to the baffled children who visit him, and it's enough to make the seasoned local sheriff, played by Malcom McDowell, exclaim, "When did this town become so sleazy??"

Cryer's sheriff's department goes into overtime trying to ferret out the killer, and the red herrings are as plentiful as snowflakes as the crime spree coincides with the town's annual Christmas Eve Santa Claus parade.  Suspicion inevitably falls on Mr. Logue's cynical Santa, who nearly steals the movie with a jailhouse outburst about the hipocrisy of the Christmas season and the disillusionment behind the so-called American dream.  The film's action culminates with a surprisingly stylish sequence in which the killer Santa and the young deputy face off against one another at the sheriff's headquarters.  The power's been cut, the emergency sprinklers have been set on "downpour", and red and green emergency lights cast an eerie glow over the proceedings.  You can almost feel director Steven C. Miller reaching for a "Silence of the Lambs" moment as he pits his young heroine against the killer who's stalking her.

"Silent Night" features a couple of similarly stylish flourishes – the occasional dutch angle, and a soundtrack peppered with familiar holiday tunes that are just a touch off-kilter – but for the most part it's a traightforward slasher outing.  The film traffics in the absolutes of horror movie morality, so you know it's just a matter of time before the bratty pre-teen who bullies her church-going mother or the couple who sneak away from a family holiday party to have sex are going to be visited by St. Nick.  Fans who appreciate classic set-em-up-knock-em-off horror movies will certainly have fun with "Silent Night" – what it does, it does pretty well.  But viewers who prefer not to imagine Santa sharing DNA with the likes of faceless, taciturn villains Jason Vorhees, Leatherface, or Michael Myers can't be faulted for skipping this Christmas movie.  After all, 'Santa Claus is coming to kill you' isn't necessarily everyone's idea of holiday cheer.

"Silent Night" is currently showing in select theaters .  Anchor Bay will release "Silent Night" in Blu-ray/DVD combo and DVD formats on December 4; special features include a behind-the-scenes short, and a selection of deleted scenes.

Note:  On Tuesday, December 4, Los Angeles-area fans can attend a signing with "Silent Night" cast and crew at Dark Delicacies bookstore in Burbank, CA.  The event is scheduled for 7:00pm, and director Steven C. Miller, co-star Cortney Palm,  director of photography Joseph White, composer Kevin Riepl, and editor Seth Flaum are expected to attend.

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