Review: ‘Silent Night’ (2023), starring Joel Kinnaman, Scott Mescudi, Harold Torres and Catalina Sandino Moreno

December 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Joel Kinnaman in “Silent Night” (Photo by Carlos Latapi/Lionsgate)

“Silent Night” (2023)

Directed by John Woo

Culture Representation: Taking place from December 2021 to December 2022, in the fictional city of Las Palomas, Texas, the action film “Silent Night” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino and a few African Americans) portraying the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A man goes on a mission to hunt down and kill all the gang members who were responsible for the Christmas Eve shootout that accidentally killed his 7-year-old son.

Culture Audience: “Silent Night” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker John Woo and mindless action movies.

Harold Torres and Valeria Santaella in “Silent Night” (Photo by Carlos Latapi/Lionsgate)

The gimmick of having no dialogue in a movie quickly becomes boring in the idiotic action flick “Silent Night,” which has too many repetitive scenes of the vigilante protagonist preparing for his revenge mission. By the time he gets around to carrying out his violent vendetta, it becomes a mind-numbing jumble of moronic “one-man killing spree” clichés with shootouts and other bloody fights. Even if this 104-minute movie had been a short film, the movie’s weak and badly conceived plot isn’t enough for a solidly entertaining story.

Directed by John Woo and written by Robert Archer Lynn, “Silent Night” has some scenes that are pretentiously meant to make the movie look artsier than it really is, such as when things are shown in slow motion or scenes that are filmed from difficult camera angles. Some viewers might also think that because Woo has directed many classic action films, then “Silent Night” must belong in the same category. But don’t be fooled. “Silent Night” is a junk movie dressed up to look “daring” and “artsy,” simply because there’s no dialogue in it.

The beginning of “Silent Night” takes place on December 24, 2021, in the fictional city of Las Palomas, Texas. An electrician named Brian Goldlock (played by Joel Kinnaman), wearing a Christmas reindeer sweater, runs frantically through graffiti-covered alleys. Brian, who has visible cuts and other injuries on his face, takes a crowbar and smashes the front window of a sports utility vehicle that has been chasing him.

The driver gets out of the car, which has a few gang members in it. The driver is a menacing-looking thug in his 30s with a bald head and tattoos on his face. Without hesitation, the driver shoots Brian in the throat. Viewers later find out that this killer is named Playa (played by Harold Torres), who is the leader of the gang.

Brian is rushed to a hospital and undergoes emergency surgery. His wife Saya (played by Catalina Sandino Moreno) shows up at the hospital to be by Brian’s side. When he wakes up after being in a coma, he is devastated to find out that he has lost his ability to speak and he can barely make any sounds with his vocal cords.

While Brian is in recovery at the hospital, a police detective named Dennis Vassel (played by Scott Mescudi, also known as rapper Kid Cudi), from the Las Palomas Police Department’s gang enforcement unit, stops by to visit Brian while Brian is unconscious. Saya is in the room, but since this is movie has no dialogue, she and Detective Vassel are not seen speaking to each other. Instead, Detective Vassel leaves behind his business card. Brian is released from the hospital about a month after his surgery.

A series of flashback scenes show what happened on this fateful Christmas Eve. Brian, Saya and their 7-year-old son Taylor (played by Alex Briseño) were spending some happy family time together on the front lawn of their small house. Brian was guiding Taylor on a bicycle. Suddenly, a few cars raced by the house with gang members shooting at each other.

A stray bullet hit Taylor, who died instantly. The movie’s opening scene shows what happened when Brian tried to hunt down the gang members on his own, but then they decided to chase him. And when they had him cornered, Playa shot Brian.

The movie shows that Brian, who is consumed with grief and bitterness, has decided to get revenge. He writes these words on a calendar for the date December 24, 2022, the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s tragic death: “Kill Them All.” It’s at this point in the movie that viewers know that Brian has made it his life’s mission to find and kill all the gang members responsible for Taylor’s death on this anniversary.

How does Brian know which gang members are responsible for Taylor’s death? He just walks right into the Las Palomas Police Department, goes to the gang enforcement unit section, sees gang member photos on the wall, and then uses his phone to take pictures of the photos. No one in the police department notices or stops and questions Brian on what he’s doing there. Yes, the movie really is this stupid.

Brian buys a beat-up looking car that he plans to use for his crime spree. “Silent Night” wastes a lot of time showing unimaginative and tedious scenes of Brian shooting guns at a target practice range and doing skidding wheelies in his getaway car, as if he’s trying to be some kind of vigilante stunt driver. And just to prove that he’s serious about killing people, “Silent Night” shows Brian using a life-sized dummy to practice stabbing a person.

And where is Saya during all of this scheming? All she knows is that Brian has become emotionally distant and has been disappearing for periods of time without telling her where he is. Because there’s no dialogue in the movie, Saya is shown communicating with Brian by text, but he usually ignores her messages. It’s a thankless “worried wife at home” role.

Brian ends up stalking the gang members whom he has identified as those he wants to kill. Don’t expect to learn anything about these gang members except that Playa has a sexual relationship with a young woman named Venus (played by Valeria Santaella) under his submission. Venus is a needle-using drug addict, and Playa keeps her under his control by injecting her with unnamed drugs. In other words, it’s questionable if this is a truly consensual relationship.

“Silent Night” had the potential to be a much better movie if it actually cared about making the characters interesting and the story more suspenseful. Every character in the movie is either a hollow stereotype or too vague to make a difference. The way that the revenge plot plays out lacks any intrigue or innovation. It’s all just a lackluster series of scenes to the inevitable showdown where one person who is outnumbered and outgunned is expected to massacre a gang of criminals.

Lionsgate released “Silent Night” in U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 19, 2023.

Review: ‘Barbarians’ (2022), starring Iwan Rheon and Catalina Sandino Moreno

April 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Iwan Rheon and Catalina Sandino Moreno in “Barbarians” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Barbarians” (2022)

Directed by Charles Dorfman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Surrey, England, the horror film “Barbarians” features a cast of nearly all-white characters (with one Latina) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four people who are gathered for a dinner party have their party interrupted by home invaders. 

Culture Audience: “Barbarians” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an unimaginative and dull horror movie that has too many boring conversations and not enough scares.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Tom Cullen, Iwan Rheon, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Inès Spiridonov in “Barbarians” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Barbarians” is being marketed as a horror movie about a home invasion. It’s actually a tedious 90-minute movie about an annoying dinner party, with the formulaic home invasion happening only in the last 30 minutes. There’s no good excuse for why the movie drags on and on in showing nothing but the dinner party hosts and their relationship issues before and during this dreadfully boring dinner party. It all just comes down to a horror movie being lazy and unimaginative.

Written and directed by Charles Dorfman, “Barbarians” (which takes place during a 24-hour period in Surrey, England) wastes a lot of time showing the movie’s central couple’s relationship conflicts and some background about the home that they have recently purchased. Adam Davies (played by Iwan Rheon) is a movie director who’s frustrated because his career has stalled. His partner Eva Velasquez (played by Catalina Sandino Moreno) is a world-renowned artist whose specialty is making large sculptures. Adam and Eva, who are both in their late 30s to early 40s, are not married and have been together for an untold number of years.

Adam and Eva have recently moved into a housing property development called The Gateway, which has been designed to be a progressive community of homes for like-minded creative people and other “hipsters.” A massive stone sculpture made by Eva is at the center of the property. It’s an avant-garde eyesore that’s being touted as “bespoke sculpture.”

Real-estate developer Lucas Hunt (played by Tom Cullen) has sold Adam and Eva a house in The Gateway. Lucas hopes to sell more housing units, so he has made a promotional video that he has posted on the Internet. The opening scene of “Barbarians” is a clip from this slick promotional video, where Lucas has the tone of an infomercial hack.

In this video, Lucas talks about how The Gateway got its name from a famous stone on the land called Gaeta (which is Gaelic for “gateway”), which has “attracted people far and wide with its mystery, its magic, its power. They come to celebrate the solstice as a way of marking the transition from one season to another.” Eva’s sculpture adorning the property is meant to resemble the Gaeta stone. Lucas mentions that the land where The Gateway is located had been owned for generations by a family with the last name Wickes.

Lucas says in the video that he worked out a deal with the Wickes family to sell the property to him, by assuring the family that for this land “steeped in history,” he would be “respecting its past to create something truly special.” As if to prove that he had the Wickes family’s blessing, the video includes Lucas posing for a photo with family patriarch Alan Wickes (played by Kevin Ryan) and Alan’s three sons: John (played by Will Kemp), Dan (played by Connor Swindells) and Neil (played by Tommy McDonnell). Everyone is smiling and seeming to be on good terms with other.

There’s a pointless part of the movie about a wounded fox that Adam finds outside on the property, because the fox got caught in some fence wire. When Adam approaches the fox to try to help it, the fox snarls and snaps at him, so Adam backs off. Later, the fox mysteriously shows up on the kitchen floor in Adam and Eva’s house.

Dan Wickes just happens to be there, and he covers the wounded fox with a jacket and kills it with no hesitation. The killing of this fox really has no bearing on the story, except to show that Dan can get violent (even in a “mercy killing” of an animal), and Adam feels emasculated in his own home because Dan acted in a “macho” way to kill the fox. Adam also thinks that Dan flirts inappropriately with Eva, but she denies it.

Adam’s birthday happens around the same time that he and Eva have moved into their new home, so Adam and Eva are throwing a small dinner party to celebrate. Their only guests at this party are Lucas and his actress girlfriend Chloe (played by Inès Spiridonov), who has been in a relationship with Lucas for an unnamed period of time. “Barbarians” (which is writer/director Dorfman’s feature-film directorial debut) is a poorly made movie that skips over a lot of character development. All four of these characters come across as very shallow and often self-absorbed, with unremarkable acting from all of the movie’s cast members.

The main thing that viewers will learn about Adam and Eva before this dinner party happens is that Eva wants to start a family with Adam, who is more reluctant about the idea of being a parent at this point in his life. Adam seems to want to wait until he has a more stable income. Eva is frustrated by his hesitation, so she tells Adam that if he’s not ready to have a family with her, he needs to be up front and tell her. Adam says he’s sorry and tells Eva that he’s committed to her and will go with what she wants.

The dinner party is just more irksome relationship drama, with Adam and Lucas acting like immature rivals. Adam feels like an insecure “beta male” because he thinks “alpha male” Lucas is trying to make flirtatious moves on Eva. That seems to be a pattern of jealousy that Adam has when another man is interacting with Eva. Lucas thinks Adam is kind of a wimp. Lucas tells Adam to hit Lucas. Adam doesn’t punch Lucas but slaps him instead, so Lucas calls Adam a “pussy.”

And it should come as no surprise that some secrets, lies and betrayals are revealed during this dinner party. The identities of the home invaders (who wear animal skull masks) and the reason for the home invasion are so obvious, this movie has no real suspense or mystery. By the time the horribly staged home invasion happens during the dinner party, viewers will feel like “Barbarians” invited people to a horror movie, but instead offered a time-wasting void of monotonous and forgettable drivel.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Barbarians” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 1, 2022.

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