Wednesday 4 December 2013

Silent Night (Steven C. Miller, 2012) DVD Review

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Based on the 1984 slasher film Silent Night Deadly Night, which inspired controversy and parental panic across the United States upon its release, this 2012 remake takes the basic premise – a vengeful killer in a Santa suit slaughtering their way through a small town – and runs with it in a sufficiently different and more detailed direction.

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“It's Christmas Eve for all of us, the season of giving, so get off your ass.” Opening with a creepy juxtaposition of a joyful Christmas jingle and a psychopath preparing for their upcoming murder spree, Steven C. Miller's film promises menace, even if there is an apparent lack of tension. However, the film isn't wanting for style, as the first kill employs a string of luminous Christmas lights to electrocute a sexually aggressive man – replete with bursting eyeballs (albeit in CGI).

“Do I look like I believe in Santa Claus?” It's the day before Christmas and the sleepy Wisconsin town of Cryer is about to be subjected to a blood-soaked rampage of revenge, and it will be down to Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King, My Bloody Valentine 3D) and the town Sheriff (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange, Doomsday) to restore order amidst the chaos. For Aubrey though, this Christmas season is tinged with sadness – it's her first without hubby John, but her beaming, All-American family are there for support. She's the plucky, positive-thinking Deputy, while her superior is a grandstanding fool with little faith in Aubrey's abilities.

“Nothing's the same any more, even the snow.” On the surface, Cryer may seem to be a pleasant idyll away from the hubbub of modern life, but just beneath the surface lies a dying town savaged by the economic downturn. The mill has closed, the well-heeled Mayor is desperate to attract businesses, and many citizens are having to turn to despair or alternative forms of work. Even the Mayor's own daughter Tiffany has taken to performing in low-rent porn shoots led by an unemployed husband-and-wife team, who fuel their sex party with cocaine supplied by a former mill worker turned drug dealer.

“Christmas has a dark side too … Sin is the beating heart of Christmas.” The season might bring cheer, but the pressures of the modern world have not stopped the erosion of this slice of rural America. The pervy Reverend's congregation has dwindled to practically nothing and greedy commercialism has usurped the true meaning of Christmas spirit. Bratty youngsters demand expensive gadgets from their pill-popping parents, mall Santas drink themselves to death and trade mythical tales of a psychotic killer dressed as jolly old Saint Nick, and all the young adults are concerned with is sex and money. At least Deputy Aubrey and gossipy Gen Y'er Brenda (Ellen Wong, Scott Pilgrim vs The World) are trying to keep the cheer.

“Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year.” Ultimately though, this is a town in need of a refresher course in morality and, in classic 1980s style, there's an axe-swinging psychopath eager to cut his naughty list down to nothing. The God-fearing and honest-living will survive, while the dregs of society – pushers, pimps, thieves, adulterers, and those lacking in joy – will suffer.

“What a bloody mess.” Bodily dismemberment, a scythe to a man's baubles, a blood-gushing run-in with a wood chipper (the most gleefully gory aside in the whole film), severed digits, head-splitting action, and a referential poke from a set of antlers make for a bloody good time for the gorehounds.

“Christmas – the number one holiday for people going nuts.” Particular attention has also been paid to the essentials of the festive season – Carollers, cheer, colds, coal, creepy Santas and more – there's several aspects that everyone will recognise from their own experiences of the holidays through their lives, particularly if they've ever sat on the lap of a spirit-crushing, boozed-up Santa impersonator.

“What is this, garbage day?” While this 2012 update may lack the sneering sense of danger that the original had (there were no fear-spouting parent groups picketing cinemas over this version), as well as that nostalgic grit of a classic 80s slasher, it wins-out in other areas. The script for the original film played out more as a series of disjointed sequences – there was little in the way of a through-line for the audience, both in terms of a real hero to root for, and thematically – but Miller's remake is careful to invest in a quality script by Jayson Rothwell. The stabs at humour don't always work, but for the most part this is an entertaining slay-ride with enough heart and brains to match it's extensive body count. Miller's film is unlikely to gain the notoriety and cultural legacy of its 1984 counterpart, but it's a remake that was worthwhile, bringing something much more to the game than just a callous grab for horror fan's cash (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010 this most certainly is not).

“Holiday murders – Google that.” Tension, and a chance at iconography, are not this film's strong points, but characters who either get into your good graces, provide some chuckles, or give a good sense of murder mystery most certainly are. Never taking itself too seriously, Silent Night balances cleanly-executed savagery with deeper meaning, motivation, and even comic moralism. The script is far superior to the original, even if the climax is a bit soft-boiled, and it's beautifully presented; this is one of the most colourful horror films I've seen in a while. Taking visual inspiration from Hobo With A Shotgun with gorgeous widescreen photography doused in deep reds, greens, and blues (props to DoP Joseph White), Silent Night is, appropriately enough, lit up like a Christmas tree. It's low on frights for seasoned horror fans, but the sight of a blood-spattered Santa wielding a flamethrower against a teeth-gnashing Malcom McDowell is too much fun to resist.

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