There are tons of movies about humans trying to negotiate the post-apocalypse. Less common are films about people counting down until the end of the world—though they certainly exist, with approaches as varied as Roland Emmerich’s big, loud disaster flick 2012 and Lars von Trier’s pensive, nihilistic Melancholia. Writer-director Camille Griffin’s Silent Night more resembles the latter, though it’s got its own approach to putting a group of wealthy and beautiful people into the bleakest scenario imaginable.
It’s also a Christmas-themed movie, as the title suggests, and it starts off with the breezy energy of British holiday movies that have come before—a resemblance bolstered by the presence of Love Actually’s Keira Knightley. She leads the ensemble as Nell, wife of Simon (A Discovery of Witches’ Matthew Goode), mother of three boys, and chipper Christmas Eve hostess for a gaggle of close friends and their partners. (The rest of the excellent cast includes Malignant’s Annabelle Wallis as Sandra, A Series of Unfortunate Events’ Lucy Punch as Bella, The Good Place’s Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Alex, His House’s Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù as James, Yoga Hosers’ Lily-Rose Depp as Sophie, and young Jojo Rabbit breakout Roman Griffin Davis, who’s also the son of the writer-director, as Art).
Early on, we start to get little hints that there’s more to this well-heeled gathering than the usual festive-season spectrum of presents, carols, sweets, micro-aggressions among the adults, and full-on bratty bickering between the kids. Simon sets the resident chickens free because “it’s kinder if the foxes get them first.” Sandra smugly admits she spent her daughter’s college tuition money on her glamorous dress and shoes. James reminds Nell, as she sighs about getting old, that, well—they were getting old. But now, things are different.
Silent Night doesn’t make us wait to find out what all this foreshadowing means, though our explanation of the looming apocalypse comes from the kids, which means we get a garbled interpretation of what’s going on. Apparently, the Earth has gathered all pollution into a deadly poison cloud that’s slowly spreading across the planet. Once it’s engulfed, the planet will be uninhabitable for at least 100 years. The cloud will reach the party location on Christmas morning. Also, the British government has generously supplied every legal citizen with an “exit pill,” allowing them to die swiftly and painlessly instead of gruesomely choking to death on toxic fumes.
That last fact propels much of Silent Night’s drama; most everyone has already resigned themselves to suicide, aside from the outspoken Sophie (the lone American in the group, she’s also recently learned that she’s pregnant) and the precocious, suspicious, and increasingly conspiracy-minded Art. The parents in the group are insistent that “we’re not killing our kids,” but there are feelings of guilt and blame in the air, not just because of the pills they’ll be administering to their offspring, but because it’s at least partially their fault the Earth has been fucked for future generations.
While Silent Night muses over the thorny prospect of curating a more pleasant death for your loved ones—while underlining the fact that not everyone in the world is able to approach doomsday from such a place of privilege—it also gives its characters room to experience the full range of emotions that come with facing the imminent end. There are dance parties (with on-the-nose songs: “Fame! I’m gonna live forever!”), tearful confessions, screaming arguments, heart-wrenching good-byes, horrible moment-of-truth realizations, and weirdly petty demands—because what grubby animal swallows a suicide pill while swigging from a lukewarm can of Coke? It gets exhausting and even a bit maudlin as the ticking-clock structure leads us closer to the end, and you start to realize that you don’t really care about the (seemingly inevitable) fate of Silent Night’s characters. Most of them really aren’t that likable—with the exception of James, who’s conflicted yet compassionate, and Alex, who avoids all the shrill pettiness by tossing her sobriety aside and drowning herself in champagne.
It’s thanks to Art, who ends up carrying the movie for the most part, that we start to question if the cloud is really what the government says it is—all evidence to the contrary, of course, but the seed of doubt is definitely planted. However, Silent Night is more invested in chronicling its characters’ personal breakdowns than it is in investigating what could be a broader mystery surrounding its story. There’s an uneasy feeling as the movie approaches its grim conclusion—with a little twist at the end that’s either setting the stage for a post-apocalyptic sequel or opening up a yawning plot hole for the sake of one big “gotcha!” last shot. By the time you get there you might be too bummed out to care.
Silent Night arrives December 3 in theaters and on AMC+.
Wondering where our RSS feed went? You can pick the new up one here.