This bizarre comedy feels like Keira Knightley’s way of saying screw-you to her mainstream fan base. Right at the start, Knightley (as wife and mother of three, Nell, about to spend Christmas in a holly-bedecked mansion with her attractive, sweary and dysfunctional friends) performs her signature gorgeous-goofball-grin. But this is Richard Curtis territory, by way of the Twilight Zone.
Back in 1996, there was a brilliantly bleak French movie called Will It Snow For Christmas? A mother and her seven kids get into their beds on Christmas Eve. They never get up. My guess is that Knightley and first-time director-writer Camille Griffin adore that movie.
What gradually becomes clear in Silent Night is that an environmental disaster caused by humans has allowed poisons to be unleashed into the atmosphere that, if inhaled, will trigger a slow death. The only protection against pain? A government-sponsored suicide pill.
It’s always a financial risk to mess with audience expectations. Those in the mood for cinematic eggnog may read reviews like this one and decide the whole film sounds horrid. Yet if subtle black comedies are your thing, you’ll find the early scenes frustrating (one-note dialogue makes even able performers like Lucy Punch and Sope Dirisu look amateurish). Silent Night has something to irk everyone. Still, viewers prepared to be patient will be rewarded.
In the film’s third act, Knightley is wonderful as the snarling, self-righteous and anguished Nell, while Matthew Goode, (as Nell’s doting, if no longer especially amorous, husband Simon), is a stiff-lipped riot.
Also delightful: Griffin’s own three children, who play Nell and Simon’s potty-mouthed spawn. Squirrel-eyed Roman Griffin Davis, so intense in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, is eldest boy Art, who kicks against his parents’ big plan for the festive season. Twins Hardy and Gilby Griffin are just as agile as their big brother. Their comic timing in a scene that involves much fussing over a Last Drink is fab.
Which makes it all the more annoying when their mother goes for a twist ending that can only be described as a dream come true for climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and anyone who thinks scientists and governments are working hand in hand to gull us all. In the film’s last third, the mischievous and wily Griffin makes fine use of what’s clearly a small budget. As a film-maker, she has enormous potential. Her climax, however, is silent but deadly and leaves a bad smell.