Camille Griffin’s apocalyptic and existential “Silent Night” upsets the conventions of the film Feel-Good Holiday
This is part of a series of reviews from the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), in which I focused on films directed by women; you can find my other TIFF 2021 reviews here.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the 18 months of social unrest, anxiety over climate change and a global health crisis, a Christmas film emerges as existentially heartbreaking as Silent night. It doesn’t matter who writer-director Camille Griffin designed the premise and wrote the script before the start of the pandemic. Obviously, the cards were already on the table as to which direction humanity was taking: nowhere good.
A rare apocalyptic holiday movie, Silent night is a fiery, philosophical dark comedy that manages to be both charming and gruesome, but without the gruesome visuals that characterize the horror genre. Instead, the film’s insidious aura of terror hangs just beneath the surface as the characters attempt to revel in a night of friendship, family, joy, and love, all under the specter of ‘certain death.
At the start of the film, Nell (Keira knightley), Simon (Matthew Goode) and their three sons (including the eldest, Art, played by Roman griffin davis of Bunny Jojo celebrity, has a pivotal role in the film) are preparing to welcome a group of friends for a night of Christmas revelry. It will also be their last night alive. A deadly cloud is sweeping the world, killing everyone in its path, and the friends have all made a pact to enjoy their last night together before taking their government-supplied “Exit” pills and committing suicide to avoid suffering. unspeakable that they heard. will be caused by inhaling toxic gases from the cloud.
A combination of old friends who have known each other from boarding school, their children, and a few loved ones – who are both outside and deeply rooted in the circle of camaraderie – is a compelling progression of conflict and tension. interpersonal. The backdrop of impending disaster lends a veil to even the first half of the film, when revelers are still remarkably upbeat, but there is also a sense of calm and resignation, which means Silent night is funny enough throughout in a surprisingly rewarding way.
In 1961, CBS aired a memorable episode of The twilight zone called “the shelter”. Reflecting cultural anxieties about the Cold War, the episode offers a dystopian take on the American suburbs as a group of previously friendly neighbors fight to overrun a family’s fallout shelter as they believe they are about to be wiped out by a nuclear bomb. All the intricacies of polite society are blown away, leaving only creeping individualism, law, racism and fear in their wake.
Located in the British countryside, Silent night almost works as a counterpoint to this narrative. Here, knowing that they are going to die, the friends have come together to try and share their love for each other in their final hours, even as their interactions are fraught with past grievances and new stressors. But the film frequently reminds us that these people are part of the British upper class, with their huge country house, boarding school education, and unwillingness to engage in unpleasant discussions or go beyond the status quo. It is a different kind of dystopia, but no less sinister despite its outburst of forced acceptance.
These are the children, mainly Art, and a friend’s American girlfriend, Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), which offer the most striking criticism of the extreme state of fatalistic denial embodied by the majority of the guests. In a gripping scene, Art sets off an argument around the dinner table, and he and the other children castigate their parents for ruining the world and causing its destruction. In another, quieter exchange, Art asks his father to explain why the UK government has not provided the homeless and undocumented with Exit pills, let alone other poorer countries, if they are so worried about preventing people from dying in pain.
Art asks his father to explain why the UK government has not provided Exit pills to the homeless and undocumented, let alone other poorer countries, if they are so concerned about preventing people to die in pain.
As the film begins with a hunch as relentless as the noxious cloud moving inexorably closer, the relative suppression of the early-night festivities allows Griffin to employ a lighter, comedic tone that grows darker and darker as the film goes on. as the night progresses. And it is the compassionate-minded Art, perfectly fusing the roles of a shrewd skeptical child and a frightened child, who thinks beyond the limits of their isolated domain and which ultimately defines the stakes of the film: until where do we go to avoid human suffering and who gets to make that choice?
A thoughtful and intelligent film that skilfully combines lightness and melancholy, Silent night is a dark, dystopian comedy with an impressive cast, astute writing and directing, and a final act you won’t soon forget.