Director: Camille Griffin
Stars: Keira Knightly, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp
For those hankering a modern take on some yuletide spirit, the prospect of a festive knees-up in the company of Brit cinema stalwart Keira Knightly might well seem like an attractive proposition. But one would do well to calibrate expectations before embarking on this particular Silent Night.
Or maybe not… Maybe this is the kind of family gathering it’s better to arrive at with as little forewarning as possible. Otherwise one might seriously consider not turning up at all. Deeply acidic and increasingly grim, Camille Griffin’s film offers more Christmas sneer than Christmas cheer; an attempt at high-wire cringe comedy that overbalances early, toppling down into the darkest depths of Holiday Hell.
Nell (Knightly) and Simon (Matthew Goode) have invited choice family and friends for a Christmas meal at their secluded middle-class home. Privilege wafts around the draughty-looking corners of the homestead (Nell complaining about Waitrose running out of potatoes will clue you in to the particular pitch of class observation offered here). Annabelle Wallis and Lucy Punch seem like they might add much-needed spice as Nell’s catty sisters Sandra and Bella, but it’s a promise that’s not fulfilled. Significant others James (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) and Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) add little more than racial diversity to the mix but they at least stop Griffin’s gathering from freezing into a mold set solely for rich white assholes.
Race, gender or sexual orientation be damned, however. As bickering over Christmas dinner leads to resentful gift exchanges and bitter confessionals, Silent Night rolls toward its inevitable (yet entirely leftfield) anarchy. Still, it has to heave itself there; saddled (or more aptly stuffed) with a sense of weary inertia that it never manages to shrug off. Like a relative who overdid it at dinner, what follows is sluggish and bad-tempered… and quite far from the spirit that one may have anticipated.
As night draws in, a subplot about an infectious, apocalyptic gas leak(!) – that at first sounded like witless conspiracy babble – becomes decidedly pertinent, weirding the piece into a dark contemplation on the ethics of euthanasia. It becomes increasingly clear that Christmas isn’t the only thing that has brought these people together. What started out as a featherweight retread of Happy New Year, Colin Burstead lurches toward the dour hopelessness of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. I’m sorry but what-the-fuck??
One might charitably call it an original play; a deliberate southpaw designed to blindside a passive audience. But it equally stands as an uncomfortable and awkward counterpoint to the trivial family arguments and half-cut celebrations that persist elsewhere. Is Silent Night an exercise in deliberate tonal disconnect?
On those grounds it might feasibly be considered a success if any of it managed to read as even remotely legitimate, but it doesn’t. Every person plonked around Griffin’s dinner table feels like an empty vessel for the film’s snarky dialogue. The 2D figures of sketch comedy as opposed to the more rounded entities that a feature film requires, especially one that intends on switching gears so completely. When the drama eclipses the comedy, there’s not enough here to sustain credibility.
It doesn’t help any that the script leans exceedingly hard on the brittle crutch of children who converse and swear like drunken adults, under the falsely-born assumption that this is always fresh and funny (please let this trope die!). Such blunt efforts are redolent of an achingly overworked screenplay. So little reads as truthful. None of the couples exhibit genuine chemistry. Even the deep-seated resentments between siblings are rote and uninspired. Eleventh hour attempts to restore a sense of humour are all fingers and thumbs, leaving nothing but an overly depressive and awkwardly flippant take on the subject of suicide. One that has – intentionally or not – a bitter aftertaste that the whole thing is powered by an anti-vax agenda.
There’s always an abundance of shit on the telly at Christmas, but even when the pickings are slim you’d be better off with the usual selection of bland re-runs, unless ill-timed and cloth-eared misery is genuinely what you’re after this year.