Some films have the capacity to surprise, even when you think you know exactly what to expect. Take Will Thorne’s crime drama Silent Night. On the surface, this tale of a South London hitman coming out of prison who wants to go straight has all the hallmarks of a cliché, straight-to-DVD (or streaming, these days) British gangster flick. It’s even got Frank Harper in the cast, he of The Football Factory and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, just to add to the sense that this is a cheap and cheerful lads’ movie.
Written and directed by Thorne, who comes from a background in television, the film begins with the re-emergence into society of Mark (Bradley Taylor), back on his old manor but trying to leave behind the life of crime that’s seen him behind bars these past years. All he wants is to reconnect with his young daughter Daisy, despite the concerns of his estranged wife. Instead, he gets sucked back into his past life, when a tree-cutting job leads him to his old cellmate, Alan (Cary Crankson). Worse still, a threatening encounter with his old boss Caddy (Harper) leaves him with little choice.
Instructed to kill three rival gang members, taking their signet rings off their fingers as proof, Mark is joined by the enthusiastic Alan. But Silent Night has more surprises in store. Some, like a Fight Club-esque twist, almost threaten to derail the film, but Thorne’s ability to conjure atmosphere keeps you engaged on a primal level. The character detail keeps the film alive too, with the drug-dealing homies played by Joel Fry and Nathaniel Martello-White, who sit in their flat and discuss the finer merits of roast dinners, particularly amusing.
As this shows, Thorne ensures that even small roles are cast with committed actors – like Jackie Howe, who plays Toni, the gruff female owner of an auto-repair shop with ties to the local underworld. Crankson’s turn as the unhinged Alan is also surprisingly effective, while Taylor anchors the movie with grim determination, of a man who is gradually losing control of his environment. With the Christmas setting making this all the more apt for this time of year, Silent Night might not be the cheeriest festive film but it’s certainly one of the more original.
Silent Night is available in cinemas and on digital from 11 December. For more details, click here.