The timing of the release of Silent Night is very unfortunate. This was written pre-pandemic, a clear text about climate change and how the government’s inability to tackle it will lead to certain oblivion that will take us all. But, of course, with the wrinkle that the government will at least take charge of the apocalypse, finding a bureaucratic way to handle the end of human civilisation as we know it. Alas, released at this point in 2021, a film about a group of people having one final Christmas gathering before taking their government recommended medication to, ostensibly, save them from spreading sickness in the world outside, that hits pretty differently. It also incurs wider subtext, the surprising accuracy with which they depict government information broadcasts about suggested medication to combat a global emergency, that makes for uncomfortable viewing due to the film’s ultimate arc: a tragically mistimed coincidence that has unfortunate anti-vaccine resonance in the current climate. This is more of a warning for the viewer than a chastisement of the film, we can get to that in a minute. Just, be warned, due to no fault of the filmmakers, this certainly is not the film for now.
But, don’t worry, you won’t be missing much if you skip it. This tonally bizarre film is a black comedy mixed with an apocalyptic drama that feels like the unwanted love child of Love Actually (2003), Melancholia (2011) and Festen (1998). It is a variety of tastes that definitively do not go together. It wears this conflicting identity with glee, however, positioning itself as a twisted surprise: a Trojan Horse of a film that bursts out into something else. But, for this to work, the Horse needs to impress and the eventual army needs to have impact. This film delivers on neither end. To begin with the metaphorical Horse, the film opens as a multi-family get together at Christmas. Groups drive to a big house in the country, we later learn that the adults are old school friends, and it sets it up as a large scale odd-couple ensemble. Those people aren’t going to get on with those people; baggage is going to spill out; the supposed good time is going to get spoiled. This is heavily foreshadowed by repeated references to an agreement to focus on happiness and joy, to have a purely positive Christmas. You can basically hear the scriptwriter sharpening their narrative knives before handing them out to the assorted players.
The problem is, this stuff just isn’t very good. The characters are broad, which is expected for the comedy trappings, but this isn’t handled in any entertaining way. The predictability of this façade is there so it can be upended, but the façade just is not very compelling. It is just too much time watching irritating people find out irritating things about each other while swearing a lot (and a lot of the content feels misguided). The primary issue, of the film as a whole, is the script. It is thuddingly blunt and the comedic voice is definitively off. One area where this is immediately apparent is in the excessive swearing, where the film over relies on supposedly shocking language from children in order to seem edgy, or to be funny. Nothing really hits home here, it all seems rather frictionless and creates a heightened unreality that then scuppers what the film eventually becomes. Because, soon it is revealed that the world is ending and that this it the final Christmas, it’s one last party before they take their government suggested euthanasia pills as opposed to dying horribly in the imminent apocalypse.
Suddenly, the film is about looking into the abyss and how we deal with it. The weightiness never really works due to how flimsy the opening is. It is hard to care about the human condition when you don’t care about the humans. The film also is too caught up in snarky and sarcy humour to ever say something of note. Yes, the film is clearly ‘about something’. It is overtly against how our global institutions, specifically the UK government, have acted (or rather haven’t acted) on climate change. But, it is so vaguely against this and points out the clear different between being about something and having something to say. It never actually engages with this, or gets into any specificity or formulates a thesis. It’s just a narrative framing. This cautionary tale has no real resonance outside of: this is how things could get. And then, the actual framework of our bickering families brings very little to the table, if anything at all. This is not cinema that is pushing any debate; this is not cinema that really points out any flaws. This is cinema that tackles the blindingly obvious and does so very vaguely. It is far more interesting in being ‘not the Christmas film you thought it was’ than in being anything of any substance. Also, towards the end (and especially in its final frames), the film completely undercuts itself and sacrifices the message it was almost articulating for some easy shock value.
Put more simply, the film is a mess. It is a bluntly written comedy with a few laugh lines, but little to recommend it, that transforms (vaguely) into a poorly articulated film about the climate catastrophe. But it does all of this with no resonance and doesn’t lean into any of its potential. The world ending arc has such room for serious escalation but the film has little imagination, and so little bite. In the end, audiences can leave and continue to tut about the mishandling of climate change, and talk about how things could get that way, but even that is hampered by the film’s persistent unreality. But then what? The film stumbles as a piece of dark entertainment, just annoying rather than feeling at all challenging or subversive, and has no coherent or useful argument. It is also hard to seriously consider the true weight of the Anthropocene when you’re actually rooting for the apocalypse, because at least it will shut these characters up.