First Kill (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
A father’s (Hayden Christensen) solution to his son (Ty Shelton) getting bullied is to take him hunting, but when the two witness a corrupt cop shooting a bank robber (Gethin Anthony) because the latter refuses to simply hand over the money, Will and Danny find themselves targets of deceitful law enforcements. The occasionally engaging action-thriller “First Kill” offers one prolonged but entertaining chase scene in the woods and one shootout sequence in which those involved never seem to run out of bullets. Everything else around it is busy work that leads up to an expected conclusion. However, there are bits of humor sprinkled about that hint at an edgier screenplay, one longing to be more self-aware of conventions—had screenwriter Nick Gordon been more ambitious—regarding cops, robbers, and the unlucky regular folks who happen to get caught in the middle of the crossfire. It has the potential to turn into a more potent action film with a heart. It proves capable when a boy and a thief make a genuine connection concerning what it takes to stand up against bullies. Directed by Steven C. Miller.
Silent Night (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Deputy Bradimore (Jaime King) receives a call from Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell) to be informed of the fact that she has to come in for Christmas Eve since Deputy Jordan (Brendan Fehr) is nowhere to be found. Word has it that he has found a woman and they have eloped somewhere. Little do they know that this year, the night leading up to Christmas Eve will be a very bloody affair. There is a man dressed as Santa Claus whose goal is to kill those who have been naughty, from a couple having an affair to makers of softcore pornography.
“Silent Night,” based on the screenplay by Jayson Rothwell, has plenty of gore and gruesome kills but not enough morbid sense of humor to match the ridiculousness of its premise. In addition, although it takes its time to establish the rules, it is disappointing that they are thrown out the window during the third arc for the sake of delivering violence.
The story has a likable protagonist even though ultimately she is not given very much to do. She is more relevant during the first half because there is a hint of a backstory to her. We learn that she remains in a state of grief over losing her lover. King does a good job in communicating that although her character has doubts about continuing to serve the police force, there is something about it that is cathartic and worthwhile. If that struggle had been magnified and expounded upon in the latter half, Deputy Bradimore might have been a complete character. Instead, she feels more like a tool of the plot. She visits crime scenes and chases suspects but beyond that is a question mark.
The screenplay is teeming with characters designed to function solely as red herrings, from a tumescent priest (Curtis Moore) who likes to take pictures of women’s breasts clandestinely to a catatonic grandfather who suddenly bursts to life only to warn his rebel of a grandchild about what to expect that night. The problem is that these characters are too colorful to be worthy of suspicion. Believable serial killers are either quiet and too wrapped up into their own world or gregarious and personable (preferably ordinary-looking) without feeling the need to stick out like a sore thumb. So when big personalities are investigated, there is little tension. Other times, thinking is not required. A suspect cannot be the murderer if a concurrent scene shows the killer Santa being up to no good.
The slow motion sequences are especially annoying. What could have been great scenes prior to the Splat! are watered down by images which force us to notice things like how a character’s hair falls on her face when she is terrified instead of catching us off guard and experiencing the scares on a gut level. The one that works best is the chase scene in and around a seedy motel. There is genuine horror in the decreasing space between Santa and a potential victim. The brutality that ensues once he gets his hands on her is flinch-inducing but less interesting.
Directed by Steven C. Miller, “Silent Night,” loosely based on Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s notorious “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” offers one or two good laughs. My favorite involves a little girl who demands on getting a new Louis Vuitton bag to the point where she bullies her mother, who happens to have a heart condition, into driving her to the mall right now. (Never mind the presents she has under the Christmas tree.) A few seconds later, killer Santa rings the doorbell and shows her a thing or two. It may sound tasteless—watching a child get hurt—but I thought it was really funny. (I have very low tolerance for shrieking spoiled brats.) A more consisent macabre humor would have made a merrier Christmas.