Every film going forward will be viewed through a COVID lens and all that that entails. In many cases, it’s an unfortunate coincidence. Such is the case for Camille Griffin’s debut feature, Silent Night.
The film imagines a holiday season’s merriment threatened by a poisonous storm cloud moving its way around the world. The UK government has issued “Exit Pills” to its citizens (save for the homeless and illegal immigrant populations) to avoid suffering when facing the inevitable. A group of friends gather for a final Christmas dinner, having made a pact to take the pill at the same time that evening. Art (Roman Griffin Davis), the eldest son of the evening’s hosts, Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode), questions the government’s claims and intentions.
The front half of Silent Night feels like a R-rated Love Actually, delightfully filled with the driest of British humour. When doomsday is revealed to the audience, questions of environmentalism, freedom of choice, and government trust are raised. In normal times, these would have been interesting points of discourse, but unfortunately we don’t live in normal times anymore.
Silent Night’s unfortunate parallel to our current situation (as well as why the doomsday “twist” was made known to the public in the TIFF programming guide) was raised during the film’s Q&A following its world premiere at TIFF. Griffin is aware of the negative anti-vaxxer association Art now carries, however points out that Silent Night was developed and (mostly) filmed before any lockdown measures were even introduced. And with regards to the twist being spoiled in early marketing materials, Griffin shared that the initial promotion for the film included hiding the reveal. But given the impact the pandemic has had on countless people, she couldn’t in good conscience continue with the bait-and-switch, lest audiences enter the cinema expecting a British holiday film, but come away emotionally triggered.
These coincidental parallels are bound to cast a shadow over Silent Night, which is unfortunate as the film itself is wonderful. The humour fantastically contrasts the incredible dark turn of events, and the ensemble performances are all on point, especially from Lucy Punch, Annabelle Wallis, and the young Davis (the director’s son). In a vacuum, the issues raised are thoughtful, although could have been connected more to the reality it seeks to satirize—just how did human’s lack of caring for the earth result in a poison storm? Was the government in fact lying about the circumstances?
Silent Night is an enjoyable film and marks the entrance of an exciting filmmaker to watch. The gallows humour and emotional heart are balanced nicely, creating a well rounded film that under normal circumstances, would be a delight for all.