Silent Night, 2021.
Written and Directed by Camille Griffin.
Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Davida McKenzie, Rufus Jones, Sope Dirisu, Lucy Punch, Holly Aird, Trudie Styler, Dora Davis, Gilby Griffin Davis, and Hardy Griffin Davis.
Nell, Simon, and their boy Art are ready to welcome friends and family for what promises to be a perfect Christmas gathering. Perfect except for one thing: everyone is going to die.
I suppose one way to freshen up the apocalypse cinematically is by setting it on Christmas. It also helps that writer and director Camille Griffin taps into growing global dilemmas like climate change and society’s general disinterest in doing anything about it. Some adults in Silent Night have contributed to that indifference, with everyone now confronting the worst as a poisonous gas spreads across the Earth like a tornado causing a slow death for anyone it touches. The only thing they can do about it is to give themselves and their children a pain-free death by a special suicide pill before the night is up. Is this grim? Absolutely. It’s also the kind of unapologetically and relentlessly dark narrative most of the world deserves right now. This would be twisted and unnecessarily cruel storytelling without connections to current events, but with them, it will hopefully be a sadistic wake-up call.
Silent Night begins with Keira Knightley’s Nell and husband Simon (Matthew Goode) making some last-minute preparations to the house for visiting family and friends, with the former having an eerie gaze at a framed photograph of her previous gettogether. Presumably, these were simpler times or times before any of these people realized just the seriousness of these threats to the Earth. There is also some separation through class and politics with multiple families involved, making for one or two heated dinner conversations. Still, it’s made clear that this hellish scenario is darkly realistic if the world doesn’t collectively get its shit together and work alongside one another.
Much like in real life, a child is the voice of reason, maturity, unison, and defiance. Here, it’s a Greta Thunburg idolizing boy named Art played by Jojo Rabbit breakout Roman Griffin Davis (the son of filmmaker Camille Davis, also using her other boys as the character’s younger siblings), who inhabits all of those qualities while delivering a performance simultaneously inspiring with justified rage and shattering for its hopelessness. It’s an unquestionably powerful performance that speaks and relates to the feelings of many, with an undying resistant fire burning inside and expressed outwardly with every F-bomb laced challenging confrontation with his elders. Such explosiveness also feels like a natural byproduct of a mother directing her son in a film likely based on conversations and beliefs discussed and held tightly away from movies. They have something to say with their art beyond simply enjoying making movies; these matters are important to the family.
Not everyone is deadset on taking the pill, like Sophie (the first of two great performances from Lily-Rose Depp coming audiences way this week) and her doctor partner James (the underappreciated Sope Dirisu), who are withholding a secret. Also present for the Christmas party is the materialistic and vain Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) and her polar opposite husband Tony (Rufus Jones), and their conspiracy theory spouting daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie). The difference here is that while the two central children don’t necessarily see eye to eye, they are more than willing to debate one another actively. In contrast, the adults have all but given up and embraced the inevitable. Rounding out the guests are lesbian couple Bella and Alex (Lucy Punch and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, respectively), each sharing different approaches to how they should spend this day.
Such bleakness is juxtaposed with festival decor, wine consumption, holiday games, and dancing that often brings to the surface buried feelings and other revelations causing rifts between everyone. Most of this is played with a darkly comedic bite that functions as intended but with a swift and calculated 90-minute running time; there’s no opportunity to truly get to know these characters, lessening some of the impacts. It’s also a wise decision to keep the story unwrapping itself at a quickened pace, as once Silent Night fades nicely into the night, the morbidly charged third act takes hold with emotional force and heightened suspense broken up with more wonderfully twisted and tense humor. The final shot feels a bit overly predictable, frustrating, and similar to other films but comes nowhere near destroying everything that precedes it.
Still, don’t just see Silent Night for a Christmas-themed spin on the end of days or its ferocious social commentary, do so for Roman Griffin Davis, who, directed by his mother, shows he might be the most consistently strong child actor working today.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com