By Ben Konuch
“The outcome is always the same, and in no particular order. We will all die, one by one, and you will be left crying with no one to comfort you. And I can’t do that.”
When I first learned the concept for black comedy/drama “Silent Night”, I was really hoping for it to be an unexpected sleeper hit of the year. The concept is a gold mine of potential, following a group of old college friends and their families gathering for one last Christmas party the day before the world is supposed to end. Unfortunately, “Silent Night” does little to utilize its potential, and a flawed first half stains the emotional value that should be carried by its heartbreaking second half.
While there are many characters in the film that all gather for this final Christmas party, the main characters are Nell and her husband Simon (Kiera Knightley and Matthew Goode), along with their young son Art (Roman Griffin Davis from “JoJo Rabbit”). They invite their old college friend group along with their families to celebrate with them on Christmas Eve before a natural disaster eradicates humanity the next day. This party is supposed to be a celebration of their lives and humanity, but the overwhelming shadow of death and fear hangs over the night and stirs up pain, old secrets, and dread for what cannot be avoided in the morning.
The main drama of the film arises halfway through when it is revealed that the British government has given its citizens “Exit Pills”, painless poison designed to kill peacefully to avoid the suffering of the incoming deadly gas. Young Art, distrustful of both the government and his parents, decides he doesn’t want to take the pill, no matter how painful it can be. As his parents desperately try to convince him to do what they think is the only right option with time quickly running out, “Silent Night” becomes a tense and emotional glimpse into parenthood and how people will face the inevitability of death.
The film’s characters are realistic, sometimes a little too realistic to be endearing.
The main issues in “Silent Night” arise from its first half, which perfectly embodies the frustration and anger of a dysfunctional family gathering, but watching this section you don’t even have the comfort of a good Christmas meal to distract you. The main characters are overwhelmingly insufferable, annoying, and frustrating. The movie also uses this part of the film to preach its message about climate change without a shred of subtlety, and whichever side of the debate you find yourself on, having a character stare directly into the camera as they preach for over a minute about a topic is extremely insensitive and about as subtle as a brick.
While the second half of the movie is far better and actually intriguing at times, it requires you to feel sympathy and compassion for its characters, which its first half has actively made audiences hate those very characters. You may eventually come around to feel some emotions or ties to certain characters, such as Art or his parents, but most of the damage is already done. With the emotional center of the film being stained and squandered by the first half, “Silent Night” is only a shred of what it could have been.
In terms of positives, “Silent Night” has solidified Roman Griffin Davis as one of the best young actors of our time. At only 14, his performance as Art was great, and his character was one that managed to pull me back into the movie in the latter half. With heartbreaking sincerity, desperation, and confusion, Davis shows how a young boy faced with unimaginable circumstances would react. Likewise, the portrayal of his father Simon by Mathew Goode was a wonderfully nuanced view of the mentality and actions of a father, showing both the good and the bad that can come from trying to do what you think is right for your family.
The family dynamic between Art, Simon, and Nell does make up for some of the film’s flaws, but not enough.
Unfortunately, when all of “Silent Night’s” parts come together, the good couldn’t outweigh the bad for me. Frustrating characters, a lack of direction in the beginning, and blatant political preaching make the film a mostly disappointing 90 minutes. While the latter moments of the film are good, it enforces how “Silent Night’s” concept could have led to dozens of better movies, if we only had a bit of better writing and stronger execution.
In the end, “Silent Night” was mostly disappointing, while still being somewhat watchable if only for its good ending half. I give it a 5/10.
‘Silent Night’ is currently available for digital rental on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and many other online video services.
Ben Konuch is a freshman strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and failing horribly at wallyball with his friends.