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#TIFF21 Review: Silent Night (Gala Presentations)

September 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The feature directorial debut of writer-director Camille Griffin, Silent Night is a dark but compelling holiday twist on the “last night of the world” premise, that takes a bold, eerily believable high concept setup and applies it to a stripped down character dramedy set at Christmas.

The film follows Nell (Keira Knightley) and her husband Simon (Matthew Goode), who are hosting Christmas dinner for their privileged family and friends at a large house in the English countryside. But there is a poisonous cloud sweeping over the world caused by pollution and climate change, that will kill everything it touches. From here, Silent Night takes a very dark turn that raises some intriguing moral questions, especially with it being released in the midst of a global pandemic.

Griffin wrote the screenplay before COVID-19 hit, and the film finished shooting just before lockdown started in the UK. But the climate disaster storyline, and the film’s commentary on class and collective responsibility, play very differently in the face of the pandemic. It’s hard not to view the film as an accidental COVID allegory now, with allusions to lockdowns, vaccine hesitancy, and government compliance in the face of impending doom.

The emotional anchor of the film is Nell and Simon’s socially conscious oldest son Art (played by the writer-director’s real life son, Roman Griffin Davis), who questions the government protocols that have been put in place. Davis does very strong work as a free-thinking kid who challenges everything that the adults are saying, showing that his breakout performance as the lead in Jojo Rabbit was no fluke.

The film is incredibly bleak, especially as a Christmas movie, and the mix of very dark humour and disturbing subject matter won’t be for everyone. Some of the comic moments maybe feel a bit too macabre, and not all of the characters are equally well fleshed out. But Griffin for the most part does a good job of balancing the film’s juxtaposition between cheery Christmas movie (they even got Canadian crooner Micheal Bublé to sing a delightful new song about Christmas sweaters that could easily get radio play) and apocalyptic drama.

Griffin’s film builds up to a haunting and unsettling finale that is still somehow laced with pitch black humour. At just ninety minutes, Silent Night is engaging from start to finish, built around a thought provoking moral dilemma about how much responsibility we have to help ease the suffering of others that will keep playing out in your head afterwards.

Public Screenings:

Thursday, September 16th – 7:00 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Friday, September 17th – 5:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Saturday, September 18th – 7:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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