Runtime: 90 Minutes
Director: Camille Griffin
Writer(s): Camille Griffin
Stars: Kiera Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lucy Punch, Sope Dirisu
By Tom Moore
Writer/director Camille Griffin returns with a Christmas film that removes the warm, glitzy holiday cheer for a dark comedy that dives into the human psyche surrounding impending death.
“Silent Night”(2021) opens in a way that feels pretty standard for a Christmas flick with married couple Nell (Kiera Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) hosting a Christmas gathering filled with friends and family. Big opinions are thrown around making for some tense interactions, and everyone wants in on each other’s business. The kids annoyingly can’t get along and, like any real family get-together, someone always forgets something – in this case, the beloved sticky toffee pudding. Most of the group also isn’t a fan of James’ (Sope Dirisu) girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp) and it looks as if Bella’s (Lucy Punch) girlfriend Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) also feels a little out of the loop within this tight-knit group of friends. Things seem to be going pretty normal for a warm and slightly chaotic Christmas get-together up until they get to dinner.
Throughout the initial moments of meeting the characters, there are a few moments that stick out that give off the vibes of some kind of impending threat. Then suddenly, big answers are revealed as this will actually be the group’s last night together as a gas attack is set to consume their part of the U.K. by morning that will kill them all. Griffin creates one of the sharpest plot turns I’ve ever seen that turns this seemingly standard Christmas flick into an incredibly thought-provoking view of impending death.
With there being no hope of survival from the gas, people have been given a pill that will kill them in order to spare them a painful, elongated death and there are a lot of great conversations surrounding this insta-kill pill that are truly fascinating. Some wonder if them giving their children the pills without giving them the choice not to take it is essentially murdering them. Others struggle with the fact that they’re going to die in a couple of hours and are basically going to have to kill themselves in order to spare themselves from agony. There are even some questions of morality that stem from the pill’s existence and whether or not the adults should have real conversations with the kids about what’s happening. Griffin creates a great portrayal of how difficult it can be to prepare for death with “Silent Night” and there’s one character in particular who’s handling of the situation is so pivotal and intriguing to watch – Art (Roman Griffin Davis).
Art, the eldest son of Nell and Simon, struggles throughout in deciding not to take the pill and questioning if there’s a better way. The level of empathy he has for those who aren’t as privileged and didn’t receive a pill, mostly the homeless and illegal immigrants, is incredibly admirable and emotional with how he genuinely doesn’t want to see them suffer alone. His heart is genuinely pure, and you can’t help but want his beliefs of there being a way to escape death to be true because he’s so real. “JoJo Rabbit” showed Davis to be a breakout star and that narrative continues with his deeply emotional and caring performance here. Truth be told, everyone is great in their roles, but Davis hits such a strong emotional level that’s unmatched.
Even for its main focus on death, “Silent Night” isn’t this depressing trek as Griffin sprinkles some great moments of dark and oddly joyous humor throughout. Admittedly, sometimes the sharp shifts from serious talks to the group wildly celebrating can cause some unevenness, but it makes sense with how sporadic their emotions are given the situation they’re in. However, this sporadic atmosphere doesn’t lead to stronger character arcs and problem resolution. Issues, like the group’s dislike of Sophie, have little beats throughout, but don’t get much resolution or reasoning behind them to give the main group of adults more depth outside of their darkly comedic elements. Yet, somehow, Griffin is able to make you deeply care about these characters in their final moments and creates a devastating and emotional end that rocks you to your core.
Griffin delivers a great blend of dark humor and strong, thought-provoking conversations around death that make “Silent Night” the kind of unexpected viewing experience that you didn’t know you needed, but end up getting so much out of.