This review originally appeared on Cinema Scholars
Featuring a wonderful ensemble and the darkest of pitch-black comedy, Camille Griffin’s Silent Night will satisfy the Christmas scrooges and turn off those looking for a lift of their holiday spirits.
Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) invite their group of friends to Nell’s mother’s house to celebrate Christmas. Along with the couple’s children Art (Roman Giffin Davis), Thomas (Gilby Griffin Davis), and Hardy (Hardy Griffin Davis), the family prepares for a delightful get-together.
Three other groups join the family for dinner, drinking, dancing, and fun. The problem: everyone is going to die. The Earth has turned on humanity and a cloud of murderous gas is headed towards the group. Much of the world has already been killed, so the group decides to have one last fun night before they take their government-issued suicide pills.
As the night goes on, insecurities and truths come to light. Some want to face it, others want to act like it isn’t happening. When the time comes, what will every one do and what darkness will they reach before they get there?
Dark comedy on its merit can be a difficult sell, but with the impending death on its way, the comedy is more explainable. Nell and Simon have given the boys permission to curse, so they let the expletives fly. When supplies are needed to make a dessert, Simon and Tony (Rufus Jones) rob a gas station. When there is no tomorrow, there are no consequences.
On the more personal side of things, Tony’s wife Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) is dressed to the nines to impress their friend James (Sope Dirisu). While a normal disclosure of feelings might end up awkward, this situation allows feelings to fly with abandon. Why would Sandra care about hurting Tony or embarrassing James if tomorrow isn’t coming?
James’ girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp) has her issues. Despite being young and vibrant, her future is stifled by the apocalypse. Since she no longer has a life to lead, she injects herself into situations where she shouldn’t be involved. This leads to harsh words from other characters, but those words are placed without hesitation.
While some face the end of the world head-on, like couple Bella (Lucy Punch) and Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Art is having the hardest time. He can’t cope with the finality of what is about to happen. What if they can survive the gas? What if there is no God? Why do his parents get to decide if he takes a suicide pill? All of these questions are too big for his parents who just want to have one great night and die with everyone else.
If the film is effective at one thing, it’s realizing how sinister a Michael Buble Christmas song can truly be.
Knightley and Goode don’t do a whole lot, but their characters aren’t meant to. They are used more as anchors to ground the film in a playful reality. While other characters are acting more and more outlandish, Nell and Simon stay fairly calm and together. They are a welcome steady in this group of crazy.
Davis has the best role and does the most with it. While most other characters avoid or deflect what is transpiring in the world, Art wants answers. Not only does he want someone to blame, but he also wants a solution. Every adult has accepted their fates, but he sees this situation as one to power through. Why give up when there is any glimmer of hope?
Wallis and Punch have the booziest fun, while Howell-Baptiste does great with a smaller role. Jones also plays an effective punching bag. Depp and Dirisu feel like they came from a different movie, but their tone is a serious one that the film greatly benefits from. Depp especially has some fascinating character beats which allow for some of the more heartbreaking moments.
Silent Night is nihilistically, almost sociopathically dark. But, between the charms of the cast and the interesting ideas the film has, audiences with an open mind will be rewarded. Just don’t expect this film to become a holiday standard.