In Camille Griffin’s feature directorial debut, the world is ending.
Now that Silent Night is available on Blu and DVD, let’s revisit one of 2021’s best films.
A wealthy British family gathers at their country house to celebrate one last Christmas together, which provides an opportunity for last confessions, a lot of drinking and more than a little bad behaviour.
There’s a distinct air of “let the little things go” as Nell (Keira Knightley), Simon (Matthew Goode) and their son Art (Roman Griffin Davis) prep the house for the arrival of her family. As everyone arrives, familiar family tensions arise, including petty disagreements and unconsummated yearnings (cue Annabelle Wallis’ Sandra).
As the night stretches on, the otherworldly spectre of death looms over every interaction, prompting Art to question his parents before taking control of his life…to surprising, comedic and tragic results.
Let’s not beat around the bush: this is a stacked cast. The star power is vital to the film’s success because the likeability of the actors helps to make the oft-uncomfortable plot and unpleasant behaviour more tolerable. If this dialogue and actions were being performed by someone other than Knightley, Wallis or Lucy Punch, it would land very differently.
It’s great fun to watch Knightley, in particular, cut loose and be funny and rude. After what feels like decades of playing prim and proper ladies and romantic heroines in prestige dramatic fare like Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, seeing Knightley get drunk and make offensive comments feels like we’re getting a peek at a whole other side of the actress.
Obviously Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Punch are operating in more familiar comedy territory, but Silent Night‘s biggest surprise is Wallis. In her American roles, Wallis frequently comes off as wooden or miscast; here, it’s the complete opposite. She’s loose, flirty, desperate and downright rude in the best way possible (it doesn’t hurt that Wallis is playing a shallow hot bitch, which allows the actress to really cut loose and have fun). When Sandra begins actively lusting for Sope Dirisu’s James, Wallis quickly establishes herself as the film’s secret comedy weapon.
Finally there’s Griffin Davis as Art, who is the emotional lynchpin of the whole film. A large part of the back half of the film revolves around Art’s disagreement with his parents’ unquestioning acceptance of the government’s messaging, which requires Griffin Davis to play Art as wise beyond his years without becoming a precocious tyke that turns off audiences. Much like the film itself, this is a tricky balance that’s easy to mess up, but the Jojo Rabbit star negotiates it perfectly, anchoring the film with a pitch perfect, mature performance.
Considering this is Camille Griffin’s first feature, Silent Night is quite the achievement. The vast majority of the film takes place inside the palatial country estate, but the film seamlessly alternates between opulent wealth and privilege and tightly claustrophobic depending on the needs of the scene. The film boasts a large cast, but it’s never difficult to follow the action or understand the geography of the film.
The true strength of the film, however, is the screenplay, which has both caustic wit and dry humour that are hallmarks of British comedies. Silent Night is frequently rude and confronting, particularly as the alcohol intake increases throughout the night, but the characters remain extremely relatable (and surprisingly grounded). The relationships and the details of the apocalyptic event unfold in a measured and controlled fashion, which helps to generate interest in the front half and then dread in the back half as the film expertly shifts gears and genres.
A small quibble is the FX of the storm, which doesn’t look as polished as the rest of the film, though these moments are brief. The other issue of note is the film’s controversial ending, which involves the questioning of science and government advice about a pandemic; this development makes perfect sense within the world of the film, but has unfortunate real world parallels. Silent Night was written and filmed before the events of COVID, but – for some – this ending will leave a slightly bitter taste.
In addition to a smattering of deleted and extended scenes, there are three alternative endings on the physical media release. None of them are particularly revelatory, offering some minor additional insights into what may have happened after the end of the theatrical cut (though two of the three do confirm that there are additional survivors).
The Bottom Line: Silent night cleverly straddles the fine line between comedy of manners (in its first half) and apocalyptical drama (in the back half). The film makes big tonal shifts that are handled deftly by a smart script and executed by a game cast of likeable A-list actors working at the top of their craft.
Silent Night is now out on Blu and DVD