Silent Night is a familiar holiday-themed comedy about family and friends with one dark and intriguing twist: Everyone at this particular Christmas party will be dead by the end of the night. But so will everyone else in the world apparently. In Camille Griffin’s tone-shifting directorial debut, the apocalypse is set to occur just after midnight, and it’s something that the characters are already well-aware of as they gather to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company one last time.
The film takes place at the large country estate of UK couple Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode). The two are hosting a Christmas dinner and have invited some lifelong friends and their families to join them, including the vain and glitzy Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), her dull but obedient husband Tony (Rufus Jones), the brash and unfiltered Bella (Lucy Punch) and her not-so-sober-anymore partner, Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), as well as the charming and successful doctor James (Sope Dirisu) and his significantly younger American girlfriend, Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp).
Everyone gathers for home-cooked meals and far too much to drink as they reminisce and let the children – Nell and Simon’s oldest, Art (Roman Griffin Davis) and his twin brothers (Gilby & Hardy Griffin Davis) and Sandra and Tony’s pampered daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie) – run about. Silent Night’s biggest strength is its stellar cast, who are able to naturally create a sense of shared history and carry the quick and snappy dialogue in a funny and engaging way. In fact, the film plays much like a typical holiday romp for the first twenty or so minutes before revealing its apocalyptic scenario and shifting into more dramatic territory, where the cast is really allowed to shine.
Personalities and beliefs collide when Art can no longer stomach the fact that nobody seems to be behaving appropriately to their impending doom, and it’s Griffin Davis’ noble performance that acts as not just the heart and soul of the film, but as its conscience as well. The coming disaster of Silent Night is seemingly unavoidable and unsurvivable, so the government has issued suicide pills for its citizens to die painlessly and “with dignity.” Not everyone is on board with the idea despite the circumstances, and throughout the morbid humor and dramatic declarations is an intriguing moral debate; one that blatantly calls to mind the world’s seemingly resigned stance towards climate change.
As the adults mingle and act as if this is just another holiday gathering, it’s Art, the intelligent young kid, who refuses to look away from the man-made catastrophe. While the older generations have accepted their fate, he believes that if there’s even a small chance of surviving, it must be taken. It’s an engaging dilemma – Nell and Simon both believe that taking the pills as a family is an act of mercy, for Art and others, it’s simply condemning their children to their deaths.
The concept behind Silent Night comes from a percipient place, with its central message being not giving up hope on the planet, the future, and our children. These are obviously big ideas, though the film manages to present them in an accessible, smart, and entertaining way thanks to its minimized setting and strong performances. Yet, the sentiment gets muddled if not completely overridden by the specifics of the film’s setup; how exactly this particular apocalypse functions and the government’s response to it. It’s wisely straightforward until it isn’t, and the turn that the plot wants to take doesn’t work as anything interesting. Instead, it only confuses its own themes and raises far more questions than it could ever adequately answer.
This is still a smartly done and well-directed debut for Davis, with some great work from Knightley, Goode, and of course Davis’ own son. However, the story needs a bit of refinement in how it constructs its end-of-the-world scenario and its uneven tonal swaps between sobbing drama and cheeky humor (several characters’ subplots also feel frustratingly undercooked). The conversation that Silent Night wants to bring to the table is one that’s certainly worth having, if only it had gathered its thoughts a little more concisely beforehand.