TIFF Review: 'Silent Night' Is Neither Calm nor Bright Directed by Camille Griffin
Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch
Published Sep 20, 2021Silent Night is a deceiving title. Yes, fresh snow is falling, the Christmas tree is lit, and stockings are hung by the chimney with care — but all is not calm, nor is it bright. Unlike most Christmas films that warm you up like a hot cup of cocoa, Camille Griffin's feature writing and directing debut is instead full of existential dread and impending doom. Silent Night is a comedic tragedy that makes us question what sacrifices we would be willing to make in order to protect our family and humanity itself.
Looking fondly at a family photo from last Christmas and turning on some Bublé to signal holiday cheer, Nell (Keira Knightley), along with her husband Simon (Matthew Goode) and sons Art, Thomas, and Hardy (Roman, Gilby and Hardy Griffin Davis, respectively), are preparing to greet Nell's family and friends for Christmas dinner. There's schoolmate James (Sope Dirisu) and his girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp); her very posh, stuck-up sister Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), her husband Tony (Rufus Jones) and their extremely weird daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie); then there's Belle (Lucy Punch), who seems like the "black sheep" of the sister group, and her girlfriend Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). They're a pretty particular and dysfunctional group with deep-seated issues with one another, but Nell makes a point to emphasize that this night is all about love, forgiveness, and truth.
It's a joyous occasion, but as they say grace, you realize that this is their last Christmas as the world is set to end the next day. But with a stiff upper lip, they crack on with the festivities. The film cuts between the image of a poisonous cloud engulfing the world to Nell's family dancing and then back again. They are doing everything they can to maintain happiness and a sense of normalcy, but as they begin to have difficult conversations and reality sets in, it's hard to feel anything but fear. As they flip through an album reminiscing on the days when they were at school together, skeletons emerge out of the closet, as they bring up issues they have never discussed before. They begin to get things off their chests without thinking, as though their last day on earth affects them more than they care to acknowledge.
With many intense, frightening, and upsetting moments, Silent Night is black comedy at its finest. We don't learn very much about these characters outside of their relationship with each other, and while the ending is a bit tough to swallow, it's fascinating to see the different ways they cope and how their fear manifests. Who particularly astounds is Roman Griffin Davis, whose character is so set in his beliefs that he's unafraid to challenge the adults around him and ask why everyone wants to give up on life so easily. Swearing up a storm, he verbalizes many things we often think about. We feel his anger and his frustration. It's hard to accept reality sometimes, and the reality of this ending is tough to swallow — but why would we give up so easily is a thought-provoking question at a time when it sometimes feels like we also have an apocalypse knocking at our door.
The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (Maven)