Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Camille Griffin
Writer: Camille Griffin
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch
Screened at: TIFF Digital Cinema Pro, NY, 9/18/21
Opens: September 16th, 2021 (Toronto International Film Festival)
What would you do if you knew that the world was ending? That’s a question asked many times in science fiction movies or as an icebreaker at parties, designed to understand the way that human nature kicks in and people behave when they believe that they have nothing left to lose because there is literally no tomorrow. That may be the unexpected basis for an unlikely romantic comedy with miserable odds, or a devastating ordeal featuring plenty of suffering. Silent Night falls somewhere in between, spotlighting one family’s surprisingly casual and ordinary effort to meet its end.
Nell (Keira Knightley), Simon (Matthew Goode), and their son Art (Roman Griffin Davis) are throwing a party. The guests include Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), Tony (Rufus Jones), and their spoiled daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie), Bella (Lucy Punch) and her girlfriend Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and James (Sope Dirisu) and his girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp). As the old friends come together to celebrate Christmas, tensions begin to boil over as old secrets are exposed. There’s also the impending death of every creature on the planet, as climate change rears its head and deadly, poisonous storms approach with frightening velocity.
Viewers who didn’t read even a cursory description of this film’s plot will be quite unprepared for the dark direction of the storyline. The holiday seems like the occasion for celebration, and no one is acting as if they’re all about to die. Only gradually does dread begin to sink in, as Art finds himself unable to stop watching videos sent by the British government warning of the misery caused by inhalation and advocating for all citizens to take a pill that will peacefully end their lives. Sophie seems like the only one willing to engage with the notion of inevitability, though everyone else clearly has preconceived notions about her that color the way they interact and regard her in general.
This film occupies an intriguing space between comedy and horror, since everything Art watches over and over indicates a grisly, brutal end. Understood one way, this is the ultimate case of denial, where rich people spend their last few hours together pretending everything is normal and indulging in excess. Another interpretation could be that it’s the best possible way to go out if death really is certain, where having a great time seems like the most logical and healthy choice. In this group, not everyone sees eye to eye, which of course creates high drama that should, in the grand scheme of things, seem monumentally unimportant.
There are plenty of entertaining moments to be found in this film before it shifts to a far bleaker apocalyptic tone, though even then there is still abundant humor. The cast is exceptional, with Knightley and Goode setting the stage with their poised guidance that slowly begins to crumble. The unquestionable standout is Griffin Davis, whose real-life twin brothers play his brothers in the film and whose mother Camille Griffin serves as its director. After a knockout debut in Jojo Rabbit, Davis demonstrates that he is capable of handling a range of material far more sophisticated than that typically given to actors of his age.
It will be impossible for anyone who watches this film to walk away feeling anything less than mildly unsettled, either by the behavior of its characters while they are putting on a show or as they begin to confront their imminent mortality. It might also be absolutely the wrong time for those fearful enough of a highly contagious pandemic to experience a world in which airborne toxins are entirely unavoidable, and a painless death is the only alternative. There is enough cleverness embedded within the film’s script and performances to force any viewer, no matter how pleasant or distasteful they find the experience, to continue thinking about its haunting and twisted universe long after it ends.
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+