Silent Night went into production early in 2020, before the world as we once knew it was irrevocably changed. This dark British comedy, filled with biting commentary about global and British politics and the environmental crisis, would have been a surefire hit in that “before” world. This film isn’t quite like other end-of-the-world dystopian hellscapes because there is no hope for a better tomorrow, it is as hopeless as many of us have felt for the past year and a half.
Silent Night’s Impeccable Ensemble Faces the Darkest Christmas Yet
The world is in crisis, but we don’t know that yet as the film opens on Nell (Keira Knightley) and her husband Simon (Matthew Goode) are decking the halls of their palatial estate. Their younger children are quarreling, their eldest son Art (Roman Griffin Davis) is helping with dinner, and their friends are en route to join them for the holidays.
Silent Night feels like the typical British Christmas film until it doesn’t. You have stereotypical holiday guests in the self-centered Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) and her too-kind husband Tony (Rufus Jones), their obnoxious brat of a daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie); you have the well-meaning James (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) and his pregnant girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp); and then you have the boisterous Bella (Lucy Punch) and her partner Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) who feels out of place with the rest of the friend group.
Early on, Nell explains that their holiday plans are centered around forgiveness, though that’s left ambiguous right up until the end. They’re trying to forgive themselves for what they all have to do. As the adults try to lose themselves in their memories and drink their sorrows away, their kids all try to grapple with what is going to happen in the morning. Art tries to research and learn more about the situation, desperately looking for alternatives other than death, but no one really wants to listen to a kid.
While the adult cast is comprised of many familiar faces and colorful characters, it’s Roman Griffin Davis that carries this film. Can someone please cast this boy in a happy film? I still haven’t emotionally recovered from Jojo Rabbit. Davis does exceptionally well with tackling extremely mature, grown-up emotions, and he is what makes this film hurt so much more. His scenes with Matthew Goode are really emotional and they play off of each other extremely well.
Silent Night is Camille Griffin’s feature debut and she does extremely well at directing. She balances a large ensemble quite skillfully and crafts the right amount of tension between characters with her scene composition. The screenplay, also written by Griffin, on the other had a number of issues that undercut some of the potential of the film. Not to spoil anything but, that last scene went a little too far for my taste.
The script really did a disservice to Howell-Baptiste and Dìrísù’s characters, who were the only Black characters in the film. Dìrísù’s James is subjected to a very uncomfortable discussion about everyone wanting to sleep with him when they were at university together, while Howell-Baptiste’s Alex bears the brunt of the unnecessary aggression of Punch’s Lucy. For a film that’s entire premise is grim and uncomfortable, the way that these two characters were treated was somehow even more uncomfortable.
At points, Silent Night attempts to address social commentary about climate change, while also poking casual fun at the monarchy, but it never really amounts to anything more than a punchline. There are also key elements in the film that I worry will attract a particular brand of anti-vaxxers who are looking for alternative options. Do we really need to encourage family annihilators in the time of a deadly pandemic?
In a world where I haven’t spent the past eighteen months trapped in my house, fearing an airborne virus that could kill me and my family, while grappling with the existential dread that every summer is growing hotter and hotter as we slowly kill the earth — I would have loved this film. But it all felt too real, too relatable, too tragic. Even now, as I write this review days after watching, I feel the prickle of tears burning my eyes. This film could send even the strongest person into a deep depressive episode because suddenly, end-of-the-world films feel a little too realistic.
Silent Night is a dark comedy if someone forgot to add the actual comedy to it. I’m choosing to view this movie simply as a means for Roman Griffin Davis to remind the world that he is the best child actor of this generation or maybe any generation.
Silent Night had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is set to release on December 3rd, 2021.
Check out our full coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.