Christmas movies have become more or less synonymous with feelings of warmth, cosiness, and being uplifted. After all, not many people are going to be put in the holiday spirit by some darkly twisted film set during the Winter season. There is however, some enjoyment to be gained from darker Christmas movies when they are done right, such as Black Christmas and Krampus. Sadly though, Camille Griffin’s Silent Night feels like a missed opportunity in more ways than one.
The premise is simple enough – we follow a couple, Nell and Simon (Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode), who arrange for their family to come over for a big Christmas dinner. But, as is often the case in real life as well, things do not go as planned. Some disagreements and arguments ensue throughout the night, but that’s to be expected; the real terror comes when they realise that a mysterious poison is being carried through the air that is coming to kill them all.
Griffin’s film isn’t doing anything ground-breaking right out of the gate, but it still had the potential to be a highly entertaining and suspenseful watch for the holiday season. Sadly though, Silent Night ends up being more frustrating than thrilling.
It often feels like it tries to be two completely different films, with two distinct tones that don’t mesh well with each other. For the first forty minutes or so, Silent Night is a straight-up comedy with the family gathering for dinner. You’d think that the real plot of the film would kick in maybe at around the twenty-five or thirty-minute mark, but no – the horror elements don’t come into action until fifty minutes in. Keep in mind, this is a ninety-minute film… including credits.
So we spend these first fifty minutes essentially watching a family bicker with each other while Roman Griffin Davis‘ character Art serves as the main comedic relief. Davis is an amazing young star, as proven in Taika Waititi‘s Jojo Rabbit, and he definitely has a prosperous career ahead of him. It’s therefore disappointing that the script does nothing to display his range or give him a chance to shine. Aside from lightening the mood, Art is written with very little depth. It’s not until about fifty minutes in that we finally start to see some much-needed development with his character but by that point, it’s just too little, too late. Knightley does a fantastic job in the role of Nell, but she, too, doesn’t get much development… though the same can honestly be said about everyone in this film.
Let’s be honest – you were probably interested in Silent Night for the same reason we were – you wanted to watch a film that took the traditional cosy Christmas setting and flipped it on its head, and perhaps enjoy some clever twists along the way. This should have been a legitimately unnerving look at one family’s desperation during Christmas as they realise death is inevitable. Sadly, these darker elements don’t come into play until far too late, meaning that we don’t get to see too much of this film’s sinister side.
Gratefully though, whenever the film does make the attempt at being menacing, it works great. The entire final act is absolutely terrific and it just makes you wish the entire movie had a similar feel. These final thirty minutes are chock full of tension, unease, and a disturbing sense of foreboding that will stick with you after the credits roll. Silent Night is a bleak movie with some truly great performances, but it rarely attempts to flesh out its cast of characters, instead spending more than half of the running time trying to be a comedy – one that doesn’t pack any real laughs.
Silent Night is out now.