Director: Camille Griffin
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Rufus Jones, Trudie Styler
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: M18 (Mature Content and Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 23 December 2021
Synopsis: From producers Matthew Vaughn (KINGSMAN franchise), Trudie Styler (MOON) and Celine Rattray (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT), SILENT NIGHT 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. The world outside is facing impending doom, and no amount of gifts, games or Prosecco can make mankind’s imminent destruction go away. Surviving the holidays just got a lot more complicated.
‘Silent Night’ would seem like a cruel joke at this time when most of the world is still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, but to be sure, writer-director Camille Griffin did not intend for her feature filmmaking debut to be such – though only released now in cinemas, production on the film started before the pandemic, so any uncanny resemblance to events present is entirely coincidental.
That said, there is little joy, whether when viewed within or outside the grips of a pandemic, that the apocalyptic holiday comedy offers; in fact, we’d even go as far as to say we’re not sure what audience Griffin had in mind when she wrote and directed this tedious black comedy, because we cannot quite fathom who would be tickled, entertained or snickering.
Very much intentionally so, the first act of ‘Silent Night’ unfolds like any other typical holiday comedy, with a group of old, coupled-up, private-school pals reuniting at a lovely English estate in the countryside for the holidays.
Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode), together with their three children, are playing host; and taking turns to descend upon the country pad are the flirty Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) and her emasculated spouse Tony (Rufus Jones), lesbian couple Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Bella (Lucy Punch), and an expectant couple James (Sopé Dìrísù) and his girlfriend Sophie (Lily Rose-Depp).
As such English reunions do, the occasion unearths long-buried feelings and hidden resentments amongst the bunch.
Sandra has always had the hots for James, and after a couple of drinks, gets more and more unreserved in professing her affections for him. On the other hand, Sandra’s spoiled teenage daughter Kitty (Davida MacKenzie) refuses to acknowledge her mother, while getting into loud, foul, verbal arguments with the host’s eldest son Art (Roman Griffin Davis). Nell, Sandta and Bella also take turns snooping on the private conversations between James and Sophie, as they have a couple of tense moments about the latter’s pregnancy and what to do about it.
Quite out of the blue, things take a sombre turn as we learn due to climate change that there is a toxic storm about to engulf the Earth which will bring a painful end to those exposed to it.
The only respite is in the form of an ‘Exit Pill’ which the British government has given to its citizens, which leads to a series of debates over the course of the rest of the night over choice versus fate (in particular, Sophie is adamant she would rather let nature take its course than willingly cause the death of her unborn child), social equality (Art gets all righteous about why the homeless and undocumented aliens do not receive the pill), and last-minute regrets.
It isn’t clear just how we are supposed to feel about these characters confronting the end of the world. On one hand, none of them are especially wicked or self-absorbed enough for us to cheer about his or her demise; on the other, none are affable enough for us to feel any sort of sympathy over his or her impending doom.
Despite being a character-driven ensemble, the film never develops its characters sufficiently for us to care about any of them, leaving us not only indifferent to their fates but also ultimately frustrated at how dull and dreary it gets. To be sure, the fault lies not with the cast, but rather the writing, which gives the talented assembly of British actors and actresses very little to work with.
So it is that ‘Silent Night’ never builds into anything consequential by the end of its seemingly concise but otherwise tedious one-and-a-half-hour runtime; instead, Griffin struggles to inject meaning or purpose into her enterprise, let alone deliver any sort of poignant commentary about the pointlessness of class and privilege in the face of certain death. It may have seemed a clever idea on paper to turn the night before Christmas from one of hope and anticipation to dread and despair, but the mix of post-apocalyptic drama and yuletide comedy never quite coalesces into the pitch-black satirical comedy which Griffin had probably intended.
There will be silence all right, just not the sort you’ll find any comfort or pleasure in partaking.
(Despite a talented British ensemble, this curious mix of post-apocalyptic drama and yuletide comedy never builds into anything compelling, and will ultimately leave you cold)
Review by Gabriel Chong