Silent Night is available to rent, buy or stream.
Nothing says the end of the world like being home for Christmas with the whole family. That’s how Keira Knightley’s Nell sees it, hosting a final festive gathering before an apocalyptic waste cloud spreads across the UK. Fortunately, a painless pill awaits that prevents what’s sure to be a horrific death if they can stop themselves from tearing one another apart first. Director Camille Griffin’s distinct approach to the festive horror focuses less on the traditional ‘happy family Christmas’ and, instead, uncovers an unspoken truth: sometimes, Christmas with your family is an absolute nightmare.
We all buy into the illusion of a peaceful Christmas, ignoring the hushed arguments echoing down corridors and the secrets spilt after too much wine. Griffin’s cavalcade includes Nell’s increasingly-frustrated husband, Simon (Matthew Goode) and their three kids; the hilariously argumentative Art (played by the ever-charming Roman Griffin Davis) and their twins Hardy and Thomas. They are joined by Nell’s sister Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), who is married to Tony (Rufus Jones), an old university friend James (Sope Dirisu), his partner Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp) and the outspoken Bella (Lucy Punch) and Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).
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Silent Night is one of the most fantastic ensembles we have seen in a Christmas movie since Love Actually, with every performer bringing their A-game to the narrative. Somehow, Griffin ensures every performer stands out and shines in their own way. For example, Matthew Goode’s comic timing is impeccable, while Punch and Wallis are stellar choices as the outspoken sisters. As a result, Nell’s home turns into a blithesome battlefield, with expletives shot back and forth at an incredible rate as secrets are uncorked and dispensed. The result is a bristling pressure cooker of macabre humour as the family settle into the inevitability of their apocalyptic end. Some seek a long-sought carnal celebration, whilst others want to play a game of Scrabble and forget about the horror ahead. At one point, Simon and Tony return from robbing a Waitrose of its entire supply of sticky toffee puddings to a celebration of their criminal prowess; after all, if you’re facing the end of the world, you can’t do it without a good pudding.
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Griffin’s world is built on various socio-political themes as the apocalypse nears. Government websites offer startlingly explicit depictions of how the oncoming toxic gas will gradually kill you, while the deceptive over-the-counter packaging of ‘The Pill’ is disarmingly hilarious. Griffin cleverly reflects themes of climate change, pandemics and government mistrust in all of these touches. But, despite the hilarity, Griffin also conjures a creeping existential dread at the heart of this middle-class family.
There is an unimaginable scale to the gas cloud that feels monolithic as it engulfs a desolate London. For a moment, you forget you’re watching a dark Christmas comedy as Silent Night becomes a disaster movie in scale and vision, from the destructive pace of the toxic cloud to a slow-building sense of dread as each character attempts to maintain a British stiff upper lip. But this attempt gradually cracks, revealing a paralysing fear. The children’s experience of watching their parents unravel is disturbing, as it feels all too relatable. The kids can’t comprehend their impending death, but they fully understand that the safety net of family and home is gradually disintegrating.
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The horror of Silent Night sits within an inescapable fact; death is unavoidable. The children try to navigate the impending tragedy as their futures float away, while the adults confront their mortality, desperately trying to maintain a sense of calm. However, the cloud has already suffocated them with anxiety, creating a much slower death than what’s to come. But if all this sounds incredibly sombre, Griffin manages to balance the horror with hilarity ensuring Silent Night never becomes overwhelmingly tragic. Griffin joyously creates a danse macabre between the Christmas spirit and collective suicide in an inspired festive apocalypse that writhes with sharp comedy, horror and emotion.