Silent Night

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Silent Night
"Plays out like a high spirited seasonal version of Threads."

Christmas horror films take many forms. They may be playful like Red Snow or Better Watch Out; gory like Red Christmas or Black Christmas; psychological like Await Further Instructions or outright apocalyptic like The Children – and yet in terms of pure horror, none of them has come close to Camille Griffin’s Silent Night, which plays out like a high spirited seasonal version of Threads.

Like Threads, the horror here is powerful in large part because it is real. Simplified and speeded up, yes, but present in the world today, and all the more pertinent to the younger generation. Whilst Mick Jackson’s film addressed the threat of nuclear war, Griffin takes on that of climate change. The premise of the piece is that a toxic cloud is travelling around the world as a consequence of global warming, and that everyone who comes into contact with it dies. The government has supplied suicide pills to enable people to escape the pain. One group of friends have made a pact to take them together when the moment comes, but first they are determined to have one last happy Christmas.

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Silent Night is enjoying a cinema release partly thanks to the star power of Griffin’s son Roman, who proves here that the impression he made in Jojo Rabbit was no fluke. He’s accompanied here by his brothers Hardy and Gilby, in supporting roles, and by capable newcomer Davida McKenzie. The presence of children adds weight to the horror both directly and indirectly, as they are all going to grow up with the impact of climate change, and this gives a raw edge scenes in which Roman’s character, Art, challenges his parents over their failure to stop it. He’s such a natural performer, however, that this doesn’t feel preachy. It makes perfect sense in context, and his stubborn refusal to accept attempts to shelter him points up myriad hypocrisies in the way the adults are dealing with the situation. Their frantic efforts at denial are more easily sustained when they pretend the children don’t understand, but Art is equally frantic to be understood and to have his parents respect his wishes not to take the pill.

Should the pills be trusted? Could this be some awful hoax? The director allows little opportunity for the development of false hopes, showing us the poisonous storm in action at key moments, but she does also sound a note of caution – several of the adults demonstrate gullible streaks, despite their new awareness that they should have done more about all this whilst there was still time. The most authoritative voice comes from Sopé Dìrísù as James, a doctor who understands more about what’s happening than the others do and maintains a professional calmness despite the stress of having a young girlfriend (Lily-Rose Depp) who is pregnant. She has little interest in participating in Christmas festivities. The other adults see her as being deliberately difficult, preferring – perhaps not unreasonably – to focus on charades and sticky toffee pudding. There’s a lot of cattiness, some awkward confessions, heightened flirting, alcohol and dancing. After all, they won’t need to take those pills until tomorrow. The trouble is that on nights like this, tomorrow has a way of sneaking up.

The ensemble cast is superbly balanced and there are so many good performances that it’s hard to single anything out. Keira Knightley (who looks as if she has been padded for her role) and Matthew Goode are excellent as the boys’ parents and have some great material to work with, especially in those conversations with Art. In a film replete with Joycean references, the balance of horror and black comedy is astutely managed, and parts of the banter are so lively that it almost feels as if they could slip into romcom territory – as if this desperately wants to become a different sort of film, one in which everything turns out to be okay at the end and everybody can go back to normal. It takes nerve to stay the course and with this film, Camille Griffin has really put herself on the map.

Watching this requires a bit of nerve from viewers too, but despite the bleakness of it, there’s more than enough wit to keep you engaged. We can only care about death if we first appreciate life. Silent Night celebrates the urge to keep on trying, the belief, against all the odds, that there might be something more. It’s wildly entertaining, ferociously pertinent and very human.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2021
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Silent Night packshot
Nell, Simon and their son Art are ready to welcome friends and family for what promises to be a perfect Christmas gathering. Perfect except for one thing: everyone is going to die.

Director: Camille Griffin

Writer: Camille Griffin

Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Sopé Dìrísù, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Rufus Jones

Year: 2021

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

Streaming on: Altitude Film and other digital platforms


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