A Christmas gathering on the precipice of the end of the world forms the hook in Silent Night, a film arriving into selected cinemas this week. Boasting a cast of familiar faces including Keira Knightley, Sope Dirisu, Matthew Goode, Annabelle Wallis, Roman Griffin Davis, Lucy Punch, and Lily-Rose Depp, the film offers plenty of dark salve for all that Christmas cheer. Written and directed by Camille Griffin, Silent Night follows a group of life-long friends and their families, as they gather together to celebrate the holidays. All should be merry and bright, but there’s a life-ending poison cloud heading into the country. Each member of the party has with them an ‘exit’ pill – medication that will enable them to peacefully die without all the horrific side-effects of the toxin, but each has their own views and opinions on whether or not to use it. As the cloud pushes ever closer to the property that they are residing in, tensions flare as everyone attempts to comprehend their own mortality.
Silent Night is certainly not the most Christmassy of films on the market right now. It’s a subdued film, one that has a heavy acrid taste of pathos running throughout. This isn’t to say that it is overtly depressing or serious, Griffin has somehow found the light in the dark, and there’s a thick vein of humour entwined within. The interactions between the differing clans are amusing, the bitchiness and ribbing is done with the love that only old friends and family can get away with. Each unit, be it family or couple, also has its own personal dysfunctions that generate some laughs. Griffin uses the squabbling and bickering to create characters who quickly feel real and to whom the viewer quickly attaches. Laughs aside, the slow and thoughtful building of relationships leads to a heavily emotional finale. Even characters who up until this point have been pretty despicable, spoilt brat Kitty being a prime example, cause some tears to form. The resolution of an ongoing dispute between mother and daughter is just the beginning of the levee break, and there’s likely to not be a dry eye by the film’s ominous conclusion. Even at the end of the world, the families still have time for some entertaining silliness such as an exasperated father who is repeatedly sent in search of the right final fizzy drink by his children; the sequence is perfect gallows humour.
Of all of the characters, it is young boy Art (played by Jojo Rabbit’s Roman Griffin Davis) with whom the audience connects and spends the most time with. Many kids Art’s age are questioning Santa’s existence, whereas he is querying the validity of government info and whether everyone should blindly agree to suicide. Davis is excellent as the young boy questioning everything, the young actor’s performance is superbly intricate, nailing the emotional highs and lows of such a nightmare situation, whilst still retaining enough childish innocence and bravado to work for the viewer. Outside of Art, the rest of the cast of characters all snatch fleeting moments, Silent Night falling into the same pitfall as many ensemble pieces. As the narrative progresses, several characters are forced into the background, a slight disappointment as this story easily lends itself to be explored through anyone and everyone’s eyes.
Camille Griffin’s Silent Night draws many comparisons to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, with an ending to rival the bleakness of The Mist. It may sound like a daunting viewing prospect, but the humour soothes the sting (at least in part) of the bitterness unfolding. An excellent ensemble cast with an exceptional turn from Roman Griffin Davis, Silent Night is the sobering tonic to the excess of yuletide exuberance. The ultimate anti-Christmas feel-good movie, Silent Night makes a great palette-cleanser for all the sticky saccharine content out there.
Silent Night is in UK cinemas now.
This review first appeared on THN.