Thursday, December 13, 2012

Silent Night, Zombie Night (USA, 2009)

We went into this production with no expectations, having never before heard of either the film or its director Sean Cain. Sean Cain, who also wrote the screenplay, appears to be a rather active independent horror filmmaker, and this is the third of to-date two horror films he has directed (the others being Breath of Hate [2011  / trailer] and Naked Beneath the Water [2006 / trailer]). As the head of his own production company, Velvet Hammer Films, he has also assisted in a variety of other such genre films.
But let's get back to the film at hand. Silent Night, Zombie Night is set in sunny California during, as its name might imply, the Christmas holidays. Why there is a zombie outbreak is never truly broached, though there is a brief reference later in the film to what causes the zombies (some critter in their brain) that places the "undead" well within the type found in films such as Night of the Creeps (1986 / trailer) and/or Slithers (2006 / trailer). No, the outbreak here just starts out of the blue with the beginning of the film, and thus comes across as unexpected and real as it is for the main characters — an extremely small circle of characters: most of the film concerns two cops and a wife, augmented later by a short appearance of a survivor hiding in the attic of another house (Lew Temple of The Devil's Rejects [2005 / trailer]) and a small group of armed survivors searching for living people to take back to their safe haven. 
In a rare development, Silent Night, Zombie Night features both fast zombies and slow zombies; basically, as one character points out somewhere along the line, "Not all monsters are created equal." But fast or slow, all the zombies look pretty grotty — unnaturally so, actually: it seems that following infection and death, those transformed also undergo sudden, intense (but off-screen) putrification so that within minutes they look like they've been mutant, flesh-eating ghouls for months, not minutes.
Silent Night, Zombie Night starts out with some nice understated humor and some blasts of real violence, but it ends up floundering to an end that is less satisfying than acceptable. It offers little new as a whole — the scene set to the song "Going Out to the Ballgame" is perhaps the highpoint of the film — but what it serves it at least serves well made and well acted and with a smooth, functional visual style that doesn't demand undue attention.
Unlike many horror films, Silent Night, Zombie Night spends an inordinate amount of time on the characterization of its main trio of protagonists, the LAPD cops Frank Talbot (Jack Forcinito) and Nash Jackson (Andy Hopper) and Talbot's indecisive wife Sarah (Nadine Stenovitch), whom is loved by both men and who was in the midst of leaving Frank when the outbreak hit. And while it is nice to have characters that are more than just ciphers, the film suffers a bit from its attempt to balance too much human interest with zombie massacre. Though Silent Night, Zombie Night never completely loses the interest of the viewer, it does drag occasionally and there is an inordinate amount of dialogue and at least one if not more fleshing-out-the-character scene that is not needed. At the screening we were at, for example, the overly long Jack Daniels scene had all the guys watching the movie shouting "Prick Tease!" at Sarah and, indeed, it did make her — up till then a fully understandable, intelligent and likeable figure — suddenly come across less indecisive than incredibly stupid or, worse, truly a prick tease. Not good, seeing that she is someone the viewer, male or female, is supposed to root for.
For a low-budget, independent film, the acting is surprisingly good, even convincing much of the time. It helps not only that Silent Night, Zombie Night isn't just another film about unnaturally attractive teens or twens, but is instead one about relatively normal-looking adults (if inordinately thin/fit for US Americans) on the far side of thirty. And though almost all unknown, the faces populating the cast are also all oddly familiar-looking, like someone you know by sight from down the street or at work or behind the teller at the supermarket. This familiarity greatly helps to strengthen viewer-character identification as well as in grounding the film in a sense of reality.
In regard to the special effects, they are for the most part convincing. Occasionally some of the blood explosions scream CGI much louder than they do gore, but most of the exploding body parts look like body parts exploding, and the black goo the bitten tend to vomit looks, well, like properly gross black goo. As normal in the films of today, there are no nude scenes, though the manly cop — Forcinito — does get shirtless for the ladies.
As for scares and tension, there are a few scares now and then, mostly of the cheap variety, and some tension on occasion, but Silent Night, Zombie Night is more gore and characterization and humor than it is in any way scary or tense. Thus, it also barrels less than it does meander to its open ending, an ending that — after all the testosterone that preceded it — implies that sisters have to do it for themselves. (We speak of "sisters" instead of "sister" because towards the end of the movie cult actress Felissa Rose [of Sleepaway Camp (1983 / trailer) and Nikos the Impaler (2003)] shows up.)
On the whole, Silent Night, Zombie Night is definitely not a bad film or a total waste of time, despite the fact that it also doesn't offer anything new or particularly inventive. Go in with no expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised. We were. And what the fuck, it is definitely a welcome break to the umpteenth holiday showing of all the standard crap normally on the tube during the X-mas season.

1 comment:

Kev D. said...

Sweet and thorough review... I think I'll check this one out.

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