The Christmas holiday is a time for families to exchange presents, pleasantries, and express how thankful they are for each other. To indulge in gingerbread cookies, eggnog, and whatever dessert treats their heart’s desire. What if, perchance, you knew it was the last Christmas you would ever see? That, in some H. G. Wells’-like insight, that the end of the world was coming. Would you be able to carry on singing your yuletide carols without a twinge in your throat? Could you carry on with a foreboding sense of dread and cover it with finality? First-time writer/director Camille Griffin presents the quasi-black comedy, end of the world drama, Silent Night at first with happiness – because that’s how Christmas Eve is supposed to be.
Neil (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode), along with their children, Art (Roman Griffin Davis), and twins Thomas (Gilby Griffin Davis) and Hardy (Hardy Griffin Davis), are preparing to welcome guests for an extravagant party. Neil seems very cheerful about it. The atmosphere that Griffin brings about lures you into thinking this is a Home Alone-like film. Michael Buble’s ‘The Christmas Sweater’ plays as the guest list rolls it. They consist of old friends – such as the glamour indulgent Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), her timid husband, Tony (Rufus Jones), and spoiled daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie). There’s also the comedically sarcastic Bella (Lucy Punch) and her partner Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and cancer doctor James (Sope Dirisu) with his girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp). Sophie has a certain amount of anxiety, as all the players have a history together. She’s very much on the outside looking in and is treated as such by the women.
Within this celebration, there’s an open secret. Somewhere, somehow – the world is about to end, and there are only 24 hours left. Griffin plays it coy on how the end times will happen. Much like our fascination with asteroids, comets, Nostradamus’s predictions – some things that are hinted at through a news broadcast here and government alert there. So, this celebration of sorts takes on a macabre tone. The adults in the room have accepted that the end is coming, with no possibility of a reprieve. Parents are supposed to shield their children or attempt to make sure they have a future. This assembly has laid down their swords and shields and welcomes the end with open arms. Armed with an ‘exit pill’ given by the British government, they assure deaths will be painless compared to the unknown. It’s rich because James, a doctor within this group, is tasked with saving lives and won’t save his own.
That’s where Art’s character comes in. He’s the personification of raging against the dying of the light and constantly challenging his parents’ and adults’ rhetoric. A specific scene occurs at the dinner table, where he and Kitty are debating how the end is coming on. As the dinner party goes on, the stark division in thinking shows between adults and children – particularly Art. Is it a chemical attack by a neighboring country? Or the accumulation of climate disasters? “Greta tried to warn us,” he exclaims. Art is the stop sign of this car that wants to careen off the road vulgarly. Why should a child accept an uncertain death? Especially when it’s adults who created an atmosphere of uncertainty. It’s an essential question that Griffin presents to the audience.
Silent Night boasts a great cast, who all play their different archetypical roles well. You wish to know more about the adults and their relationships previous to the party. One scene that hints at various love affairs between the group happens, but some characters receive more depth than others. An allusion to people on the outside comes up in a conversation with Art and Simon. They are a well-off family having this party full of enormous bedrooms, food and drinks aplenty, and beautiful decor. Only the middle and upper class got the exit pills. Immigrants and homeless people have not – sentencing them to the most painful death possible.
Cinematographer Sam Renton covers the outdoor landscape in darkness, with an ominous wind and cloud cover that stalks the residence. Griffin evens out the humor and cynicism by keeping the apocalypse ambiguous and covering this celebration with a dark layer. There’s something to be said for a group of older people to be making such a finite, blanket decision. Especially when they’ve had years to lament in whatever dreams and aspirations they saw fit. We’ve been guilty of being obsessed with how the end of time will come, but are we prepared to accept it when it knocks on our Christmas reef?
Photo Credit: TIFF