VOD film review: Silent Night
Ivan Radford | On 12, Dec 2021
Director: Camille Griffin
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Lily-Rose Depp, Lucy Punch
Where to watch Silent Night online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Friends gather for Christmas dinner, only for darker secrets, long-held resentments and bitter arguments to ensue. Sound familiar? Silent Night’s strength, and occasional weakness, is that it resolutely refuses to play things by the festive film rulebook.
We begin with a familiar montage of people getting ready and heading to a very big house in the country for a seasonal shindig. There’s the self-righteous Nell (Keira Knightley), mother of three and wife of spineless Simon (Matthew Goode), the blustering Tony (Rufus Jones), the self-centred Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), the kind-hearted James (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) with his younger partner, Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), and the thoughtless Bella (Lucy Punch) with her overlooked partner, Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).
But writer-director Camille Griffin takes that starting point and steers the ensuing awkward exchanges into extremely dark territory. What starts as a comedy of social manners, with Knightley’s pursed-lipped frustration and Goode’s prim-and-proper uselessness a particular source of amusement, soon descends into something incredibly bleak, as the reason for their gathering becomes clear. In the background, through snatches of news broadcasts and throwaway remarks, looms an environmental disaster, and we gradually learn that the people at this party will have no choice but to face the horrific reality of its consequences.
From government measures to lockdown-amplified tensions, the film could easily be seen as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Griffin started work on it before the global crisis – if anything, it’s telling how timely the film is in the way that it still applies despite events since March 2020. What emerges is a satire on the blinkered nature of privilege, and a generation’s determination not to take the blame for the state of the world, right down to lying to the youngsters growing up in their mess.
Jojo Rabbit’s Roman Griffin Davies brings a wide-eyed imagination to Nell and Simon’s eldest, Art, who is capable of seeing things in a different way to the grown-ups around him, and that forms the crux of the movie’s message, which is questioning the way that hierarchies of wealth and age defiantly hold strong in the face of a crisis, and asking whether facing up to a problem would be better than taking the proverbial blue pill and denying it exists.
The result is an anti-Christmas film that reminds us that Keira Knightley’s range goes far beyond Love Actually. When the final act comes around, though, things have gotten so unpleasant that the movie’s overall point might be lost on audiences. There’s something admirable in just how bleak Griffin is prepared to go but what’s clear either way is that, by the time the end credits are rolling, things stopped being fun a while ago.