This extraordinarily odd British black comedy has a strong claim to the title of “Bleakest Christmas Film Ever Made”: imagine if a group of Richard Curtis characters woke up inside Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s devastating psychological drama about the imminent and unavoidable destruction of Earth.
All is calm, all is bright at the picturesque country house where Nell (Keira Knightley) has summoned her siblings and their partners for a seasonal get-together. The roast is in the oven, the bubbly in the fridge, the Bublé on the airwaves.
But something is ominously askew. Nell’s sister Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) arrives in a glittery dress and killer heels, and flatly explains she’s spent her daughter Kitty’s university fund on her outfit. And when Sandra’s puddingy spouse Tony (Rufus Jones) realises they’ve forgotten the sticky toffee pudding, he and Nell’s husband Simon (Matthew Goode) simply drive down to the village shop with a baseball bat, break in and steal a dozen tubs.
Slowly, over dinner conversation, the full story comes out: the planet is in the process of being swallowed by a toxic cloud, with the Home Counties due to be engulfed in the early hours of Boxing Day. So the family is having one final get-together – you sense Last Christmas might have been the working title, until Paul Feig and Emma Thompson pinched it two years ago – before the time comes to take their government-issued suicide pills and henceforth sleep in heavenly peace.
I know, I know: finally, after the last two years of global torment and sorrow, a bit of light escapism. Yet Silent Night’s grisly topicality is at least half-accidental. Camille Griffin’s debut feature was in fact written and shot before the pandemic erupted, and is obviously intended as a climate-change parable, complete with adults guiltily reassuring their offspring that the whole sad business was unavoidable, and they did all they could.
Roman Griffin Davis, the star of Jojo Rabbit and son of writer-director Griffin, provides the voice of indignant youth. He plays Art, the eldest and foulest-mouthed of Nell and Simon’s three boys, and he refuses to believe that humanity’s extinction is inevitable. As for the grown-ups – who include third sister Bella (Lucy Punch) and her partner Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), plus family friend James (Sope Dirisu) and his young American girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), they’d rather just reminisce, settle old scores and get drunk.
Knightley and Goode give nicely self-aware performances, though the acting is wobbly elsewhere and the supporting characters a little roughly sketched. But credit where it’s due: Silent Night decides what it’s going to do and unshrinkingly commits to the task. The mood veers compellingly between absurdity, whimsy and despair, the extreme middle-classness gladdens and grates by turns, just as it should, and the comedy lands a few conscience-bruising jabs.
The final shot borrows a gambit from another apocalyptic chamber piece, but in this context it feels like a con, and generates more confusion than surprise. (To specify exactly where it’s been borrowed from would give the game away.) Yet fortunately, the tale’s overall chilly potency is largely unblunted. It’s a hard film to recommend, but it works on its own gutsily perturbing terms.
15 Cert, 90 min. Dir: Camille Griffin. Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin-Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lucy Punch, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lily-Rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Rufus Jones, Davida McKenzie.
In cinemas from Dec 3