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TIFF 2021 Review: Silent Night “Make no mistake, it is bleak, but it’s also funny”

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Image courtesy of TIFF

Prior to the start of Camille Griffin‘s Silent Night, the writer-directors feature debut, she had this to say: “I believe as the world becomes more fragile, society becomes more divided between those that do, and those that don’t give a damn about one another.”  While this film was apparently written in the time before COVID, it is impossible not to draw parallels between this (very) black comedy and what has been going on in the world around us.  It’s also near impossible to do this film justice without spoiling its main premise, which becomes clear not too far into the film, but if you’d like to keep it a surprise then I suggest you stop reading here (I give the film 3.5/5 so you don’t miss out).

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For those of you that stayed with me here we go.  In a fast flurry, we meet a group of old schoolmates all converging on a beautiful country home for Christmas dinner.  There is Sandy (Annabelle Wallis) and her husband Tony (Rufus Jones) driving with the brattiest child alive whom everyone is afraid of, Kitty (Davida McKenzie) in the back seat. There is Bella (Lucy Punch) and Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who are listening to Michael Bublé tunes on the radio as they discuss if Alex can stay sober for this holiday.  The last couple to arrive, in the fanciest car, is Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp) the young girlfriend of James (Ṣọpé Dìrísù) an oncologist whom Sandy dubs Prince Charming.

They all arrive to join Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) and their sons, the eldest of which, Art (Roman Griffin-Davis) is the only one helping his parents prep for the onslaught of guests.  When they all finally gather for what is meant to be a night of “truth and love” everything seems upbeat.  They are dressed to the nines, exchange hugs and presents, pour glasses of champagne while they catch up.  But the holiday celebrations are largely a charade, because there is a large toxic cloud of gas coming their way that kills everyone and everything in its path.  It’s a horrible death, and as such, the government has provided pills for everybody to avoid the excruciating pain that awaits them (except the homeless and illegal immigrants, because according to the government they don’t exist.) There is no escaping the poison, but this doesn’t mean that cheeky, precocious Art is giving up.  As the cloud descends on this group of people, as they all face certain death, there are disagreements, revelations, forgiveness, dancing and a whole lot of questions from one young man.

Silent Night is a strange combination of Christmas comedy and apocalyptic drama.  As one character notes, “I’ve seen The Road.  I can’t live like that… I can’t do post-apocalyptic monochrome.”  That line kind of gives you the feel of what Camille Griffin was going for, and she largely succeeds in this strange melding of genres.  Make no mistake Silent Night is bleak.  But it’s also funny, even if there might be times you feel badly for laughing.  There are lots of themes brought up in this film that, as mentioned, mirror a lot of the world around us right now – the doubt towards government and science, issues surrounding climate change, and the exploration of privilege.  No answers are ever given, but opinions are certainly offered, even as the adults seem to display this creepy passivity regarding their fate.

The ensemble cast here is all-around quite wonderful, but the soul of the film is put in Griffin’s real-life son Roman Griffin-Davis whom, most will remember, stole hearts in 2019’s Jojo Rabbit.  I can’t necessarily imagine as a mother coaching your son through a role where he has to ponder his own existence, but I imagine it included a lot of conversations at home for the young actor.  However his performance in this film, through his profanity-laden moments all the way to the more emotional ones, is top-notch.

Silent Night probably isn’t going to be the classic you watch every holiday, it’s much too dark for that, but it will be one that you think about from time to time.  This film might feel a little raw in the midst of/wake of (wave of?) the pandemic, but its social commentary is particularly topical.  In the last 18 months, we’ve seen everything from the hoarding of toilet paper to the government hoarding of vaccines.  We’ve seen extreme examples of selfishness as well as selflessness.  But as Griffin makes clear during this melancholic film, no amount of privilege can save you from the inevitable.

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