Here’s a warm, cuddly comedy about family and Christmas, fellowship and food and presents and oh — a planetary apocalypse.
There are no spoiler alerts in play with “Silent Night,” a darker-than-dark romp pitched as “apocalyptic” and which starts out sassy and fun, but turns grim and thought-provoking, pretty much at its midway point.
I had to take a walk to process this one, have a glass of wine to mull it over. Because while there’s no denying its quality, I’m not sure whether I’ll recommend it 360 words from now.
Writer-director Camille Griffin makes her feature film debut with this morbid farce, one of whose stars is that “Jo Jo Rabbit” sensation, Roman Griffin Davis, aka her son with cinematographer-husband Ben Davis.
This “Silent Night” is set in Britain, in a big old country house where friends and family are gathering for a Christmas celebration with food and drink, centering on “truth and love,” hostess Nell (Keira Knightley) insists. Or “love and forgiveness.” She can’t decide.
“Who do we forgive?”
Art (young Davis) is the only one of her three boys helping with the prep, and he cuts his finger, bleeding all over the carrots. Husband Simon (Matthew Goode) is extremely over-dressed as he chases the chickens out of their coop out back.
The guests include lovers Bella (Lucy Punch) and Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the posh married couple Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) and Tony (Rupert Jones) and his (not hers) teenish daughter (Davida McKenzie, younger sister of Thomasin) and college pal and physician James (Sope Dirisu), rolling in with his American girlfriend, Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), who is young enough to earn endless “How old IS she?” cracks from her fellow dinner guests.
“She CAN’T be 15!”
There’s a lot of indulging going on, fretting over who might have not been invited, over this or that dish that was hard to procure. Nell and Simon are hellbent on pleasing everyone.
But while the adults go overboard on the whole English “reserve” and “don’t talk about things” in the dinner conversation, the foul-mouthed kids are more frank. They watch the news. They bicker about the queen and the party in power.
They know what’s coming, just not whether it’s “The Russians” or “the (catastrophically-stressed) planet” that’s the cause. Simon interrupts, struggling to salvage the evening. Nell is more interested in CYA.
“We just want you to understand — as your parents, we are NOT to blame!”
A movie about whether or not Nell’s unruly boys are allowed to drop the c-word — “It’s CHRISTmas! What would the baby Jesus say?” — turns into something more terminal, if just as profanely debated.
Is this really the End? “You believe the Government?”
“God NOoooooo! They killed Diana!”
Is writer-director Griffin making a statement on environmental catastrophe, on Do Nothing Tories and the clueless Brexiting masses who empowered them? Or is she taking a shot at indulgent, you’re all special, every-thought-you-have-is-a-pearl-of-wisdom parenting?
Maybe a bit of both. I had a hard time plumbing her intent here as she has a hard time declaring it and moving it to the fore.
What’s much easier is relying on the actors to guide us. The leads, Knightley and Goode, carry their share of the comedy but really earn their keep in the tragic undertones that bubble up between the thinning supply of laughs in the last act of “Silent Night.” Each comes damned close to heartbreaking.
Dirisu (“Sand Castle”) delivers “dispassionate medical professional” with aplomb, Wallis nails “vain and catty,” Howell-Baptiste plays put-upon and taken-for-granted well, Depp has no trouble voicing American contrarianism and the criminally under-employed Punch dons a deep, faux butch voice to deliver her share of the punchlines.
All that said, this “Silent Night” doesn’t land its satiric punches cleanly. And in abandoning the “comedy” part of “dark comedy,” it isn’t exactly a place to get happy during a global pandemic.
But I’m curious to see what the writer-director who assembled this stellar cast, including her young-and-angsty son, and talked them into telling this story, will come up with next.
Rating: unrated, death, profanity, smoking and drinking
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Roman Griffin Davis, Sope Dirisu, Lily-Rose Depp, Annabelle Wallis, Rufus Jones and Lucy Punch
Credits: Scripted and directed by Camille Griffin. An RLJE release.
Running time: 1:32