Silent Night Has Screened, And Critics Are Split On John Woo’s Christmas Revenge Thriller

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If what you’re looking for this holiday season is a sweet romance full of magic and cheer, there are plenty of upcoming Christmas movies to choose from. However, if you need something a little stronger in your eggnog to get you through December, John Woo’s Christmas action thriller Silent Night might be more your style. Critics were able to screen the film ahead of its December 1 theatrical release, and their opinions range from artful and fun to boring and basic.

Given what we know about Silent Night, this looks suited to anyone who thinks Die Hard is a Christmas movie (and the trailer definitely seems John McClane-approved). Directed by John Woo, the upcoming action flick stars Joel Kinnaman as Brian Godluck, a father looking to avenge his son’s death on Christmas Eve. Let’s see what the critics have to say. 

Paul Attard of Slant rates the movie 3 out of 4 stars, noting that the lack of dialogue in Silent Night furthers the statement John Woo (who’s made his first US film in years) is trying to make on grief in this thorny revenge-thriller. The critic writes: 

When Silent Night does finally kick into high gear, the action is as artful as anything that Woo has whipped up throughout his storied career. Having a mute protagonist sheds a lot of the unnecessary fat that’s become par for the course in big-budget studio fare over the years, and it allows Woo to home in on the things he excels at: kinetic, rhythmically beautiful hand-to-hand combat sequences; large-scale acts of vehicular fury; and knowing how to stage massive gunfights with a keen awareness for mapping out cinematic space.

Peter Debruge of Variety says John Woo lets the guns do the talking in this movie, a high-concept comeback for the director who still has no intention of letting logic get in the way of the story. Debruge continues: 

The tone of Silent Night is deadly serious, but one can feel Woo having fun behind the camera, and his amusement translates back to the audience in a big way. Only Woo could pull off many of the camera tricks on display here, while others — including an extended shootout in the graffiti-tagged stairwell leading up to Playa’s lair — suggest that he’s been watching what directors such as Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have been up to (in John Wick and Atomic Blonde), and wants to offer his own take on the gratuitous ‘oner’ trend.

However, not all of the critics are so forgiving of the director’s effort. IGN’s Siddhant Adlakha gives Silent Night a “Bad” 4 out of 10, saying it plays at best like a Punisher fan film, and at worst like a failed film school assignment. The dialogue-free experiment becomes an unsustainable gimmick, the critic says, writing:  

A boring, weightless revenge experiment that quickly goes awry, Silent Night features none of the charm or visual panache that made John Woo one of Hong Kong and Hollywood’s foremost action stylists. Joel Kinnaman is committed to the role of a silent, vengeful father, but no other cinematic element coalesces around him to make his journey worthwhile.

Kristy Puchko of Mashable calls the production a “major misfire,” agreeing with the critic above in saying it feels like “a bad student film project.” John Woo brings none of the delicious fun of his best projects and has nothing new to contribute to the revenge movie genre. Puchko continues: 

In the end, Silent Night is only shocking in how dull it manages to be. By taking the silly premise of dodging dialogue to absurd ends with an absolutely straight face, the film burns out its audience goodwill early on. There’s no action past the opening that makes it worth hanging around with Godlock, who himself feels a pale imitation of countless other raging dads (like John Travolta/Nic Cage’s in Face/Off). And the determinedly stern tone not only makes the movie achingly one-note but also a frustrating waste of time. If you’ve seen one revenge thriller, you’ve basically seen this one.

David Ehrlich of IndieWire grades the movie a D, saying it feels like John Woo lost all interest in this story before he got around to filming its “basic” grand finale, thereby rewarding audiences’ patience with a massive lump of coal. Ehrlich says: 

Yes, Silent Night is a ripoff of a ripoff that ultimately steals as much from John Wick as it does from Liam Neeson, but even that could be more of a feature than a bug in the hands of a filmmaker with a history of transforming the tropes of pulp fiction into the stuff of pop opera.

The critics definitely seem to have some differing opinions on John Woo’s movie and his choice to go dialogue-free in this tale of holiday vengeance. If you’d like to check it out to draw your own conclusions, Silent Night is hitting the big screen on Friday, December 1. There are still plenty of good options headed our way on the 2023 movie calendar, but you can also get a jump on planning next year’s theatrical outings by taking a peek at our 2024 movie calendar

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