“Silent Night” is a holiday movie gone rancid, a kind of “Melancholia” for the middle class that makes the latter seem like “The Sound of Music” of apocalypse films.
It’s a devilishly clever premise, giving us a mashup of holiday movie tropes and archetypes while dropping hints of something wicked inching its way closer. As a group of friends and family make their way to an idyllic home in the English countryside to spend Christmas together, they casually mention criminal activity, the Queen being holed up in a bunker, and how they’re no longer going to grow old.
Nevertheless, their very British sensibilities which lend that whole stiff upper lip approach to obstacles see Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) continue to plan and execute the perfect party, as well as encourage peace and good times among their various guests. Until the kids break the imposed silence and reveal that humanity’s carelessness has caused poison gas storms which will sweep across the world and kill every form of life in their path.
But there is a solution of a kind in what the British government has dubbed “exit pills,” which they’ve distributed to the population so people can “die with dignity” and avoid the far more painful end to come. The party may as well be the flip side of “Melancholia,” one that goes with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s idea for the end of the world: a supposedly dignified gathering and booze. Since there’s no adult equivalent of Kirsten Dunst, only the kids really call bullshit, and they obviously have no power to alter the proceedings.
This causes many of the usual repercussions among the adults, such as reflection on past mistakes, a life lived, and how they should’ve all voted Green Party, but as writer-director Camille Griffin is well aware, even the apocalypse can’t change everything, such as the fact that most people will never truly get over themselves, or even take responsibility. Nell and Simon are well-meaning, but they can’t bear to speak of what’s about to happen, much less their role in bringing it about. Only one of the youngest adults, the pregnant Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), tentatively considers a different choice, but mostly out of an unwillingness to be the cause of her fetus’s death.
But then, Nell and Simon can’t exactly be blamed for being in a less than contemplative mood. Why would they wish to fully consider their actions, since they are bound and determined that they and their children will take their exit pills together? It’s asking a lot of moviegoers to get behind parents who are determined to kill their kids, but “Silent Night” never fails to remind us that Nell and Simon’s decision springs from the deepest of parental instincts – the basic desire to spare their offspring from agonizing pain.
It’s also asking a lot from a child to see that decision as the twisted act of love that it is, and one of them, Art (Roman Griffin Davis) is less than sensitive the way a smart yet sheltered kid generally is. His refusal to take the pill with his family isn’t so much a velvet hammer as a wrecking ball, as he accuses his truly loving parents of trying to murder him, outright blaming every adult in the room, and self-righteously refusing to give up, even if, as family friend James (Sope Dirisu) points out, Art truly doesn’t know anything about pain.
Where “Silent Night” loses its way is how it can’t bear to follow its own conclusions to their natural ends. The apocalypse doesn’t (and probably won’t) change human nature, so it makes a twisted kind of sense that nepotism will likely outlast us as well. Griffin’s inability to pull the trigger and stick to her principles is understandable, since the cast includes her own son Roman Griffin Davis, who comes to represent a speck of hope and better things to come. Most of the cast, including Lucy Punch dropping some great one-liners that include a “The Road” shout-out, get a few things to do, but even the best delivery just can’t compare to the kinds of connections Davis already has at the age of fourteen.
It’s the ultimate irony in a film that advocates for equality and a better world to save us all while passing the buck to a generation that’s already inherited enough problems. Not to mention saddling on yet another reminder about how everyone’s counting on them to solve everything for us. But no pressure, right?