Film Review: ‘Silent Night’5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
The film follows parents Nell (Knightley) and Simon (Goode) who have invited their closest friends to join their family for Christmas dinner at their idyllic home in the English countryside. As the group comes together, it feels like old times – but behind all of the laughter and merriment, something is not quite right.
Director: Camille Griffin
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallies, and Lily-Rose Depp
Country: United Kingdom, USA
Runtime: 91 minutes
Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will certainly die ― is the essential premise of the dark comedy and holiday genre mashup Silent Night. The film is an intriguing blend of acerbic social commentary and humorous rom-com moments, held together by compelling performances from promising young actors, making it an engaging debut entry from director Camille Griffin.
Couple Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) invite a motley assemblage of friends for one final Christmas gathering at a posh estate in the idyllic English countryside, as their mirthful merrymaking serves to distract them from the apocalyptic perils looming on the horizon. Impending doom takes the form of a colossal cloud of noxious fumes sweeping the Earth, smothering all living things in a deluge of deadly toxins. In an effort to spare themselves from any suffering within the grasp of this poisonous death cloud, our cast of characters has formed a pact to ingest pills that will grant them a swift and merciful exit. All one wants for Christmas, it seems, is the sweet release of a painless death.
The opening sequence already gives audiences hints that this is not your usual festive romp, as the pre-teen children swear with reckless abandon, and dads Simon and Tony (Rufus Jones) seem delighted with having robbed a gas station for sticky toffee pudding. Simon’s eldest son Art (Roman Griffin Davis) cuts himself while chopping carrots for his mother and drips blood all over the counter. As the camera slowly homes in on the cutting board, the now crimson carrots serve as an ill omen for things to come.
Nell and Simon attempt to be level-headed hosts, simultaneously managing their children’s demands and the expectations of their guests. Besides the main couple, the party consists of the flirtatious Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) and her dull counterpart Tony, doctor James (Sope Dirisu) who is accompanied by his much younger girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), as well as the brassy Bella (Lucy Punch) and her more reserved girlfriend Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).
The adult couples are all obvious foils of one another, but their complementary character traits are never fully fleshed out within the film, causing most of the characters to end up as superficial archetypes that lack authenticity. Moreover, as these adults indulge in all sorts of escapist behaviour, from squabbling like schoolchildren to excessive drinking, they seem increasingly infantilised as they actively deny the roiling smog that is coming to claim their lives.
In sharp contrast to the adult cast, the children are much more compelling as characters, with Davida McKenzie and Roman Griffin Davis giving standout performances as Kitty and Art respectively. As Sandra and Tony’s prissy daughter, Kitty seems like any other spoilt brat at first glance, but her character thoughtfully balances critical clarity and childlike innocence. In a poignant moment during the gift-giving session, Kitty scathingly points out how her mother blew her entire college fund on a scintillating sequin dress, highlighting Sandra’s blatant disregard for her future, and refuses to hug Sandra despite her pleas. Yet by the film’s final act, Kitty ultimately still forgives her mother and embraces her warmly, flaws and all. The mixture of hurt and love conveyed in the tone of McKenzie’s voice is certainly commendable for a newcomer.
After a remarkable performance in Jojo Rabbit, Roman Griffin Davis steals the show once again in this film. Art is a precocious tween that serves as a compassionate voice of reason within the film, as he continually probes the adults as to why they have done nothing to prevent global ecological collapse and chastises their cowardly responses of denial and resignation, in a manner that is not preachy but elicits actual embarrassment. He comprehends the function of the government-issued suicide pills, and expresses his disgust at how the homeless and irregular immigrants are denied these pills, exposing the hypocrisy and inequality of social institutions.
But what really makes this character is how fervently Art persists in trying to convince his parents of the absurdity of collective suicide, as the desperate and plaintive notes in Davis’s voice make his appeals truly heart-rending. Art’s emotional outburst in the final act is exceptionally soul-piercing, and a clear indicator of Davis’s acting prowess.
At its core, Silent Night offers a haunting portrayal of how centuries of neglect and environmental degradation will inevitably spell the end for us all. More than being a proxy for social critique or moral aphorisms, Art is an embodiment of future generations who are forced to inhabit a planet that we have ostensibly ruined, and must bear the suffering for our folly. Within the film, the British government’s response to imminent apocalypse is to “die with dignity”, yet one must question if there is any dignity in giving up without a fight. In light of this, the film’s title now connotes a chilling reality ―that humanity does not go out with the blazing sounds of resistance, but with the deafening silence of doomed resignation.
Silent Night is now in theatres islandwide.