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Monday, September 20, 2021

[TIFF Review] ‘Silent Night’ Hides Grim Tragedy Within Awkward Christmas Comedy

For the most part, writer/director Camille Griffin’s feature debut, Silent Night, plays like many comedies set around holiday gatherings. It features typical awkwardness that comes from a large makeshift family coming together during one of the most stressful times of the year, attempting to cast aside grudges, secrets, or bad manners for the sake of yuletide cheer. But it becomes clear there’s something quite sinister bubbling beneath the surface of forced merriment, and Griffin’s debut slowly evolves into a harrowing horror story rife with tragedy.

Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) fuss over the final details of holiday prep at their luxe countryside manor, rushing to make sure all accommodations are covered for their arriving guests. Meanwhile, their children Art (Roman Griffin Davis) and twins Thomas (Gilby Griffin Davis) and Hardy (Hardy Griffin Davis) test out the holiday gift of getting to swear as much as they want without punishment. A slow assembly of guests comes in the arrival of selfish Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), with husband and child in tow, outspoken Bella (Lucy Punch) and her partner, Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and pal James (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) with his much younger girlfriend, Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp). There’s more than enough gossip and tension among this bunch to distract from initially subtle clues that grow so loud that it can’t be ignored; this gathering is less about Christmas than it is something far more insidious and cynical.

Griffin dangles the full scope of the truth out of reach for as long as possible. It allows her characters to revel in the festivities for as long as possible. Sure, the children seem especially unruly, and Art’s environmental consciousness often escalates into angry outbursts. Sandra’s behavior grows increasingly self-centered, to the point of asking the group which one ever desired her sexually before or proudly showing off expensive shoes she chose over her daughter’s education, a choice met with resentment. Never mind that the weather doesn’t quite fit the holiday season outside. But the consensus quickly forgives any tensions, weirdness, or outbursts to embrace the joy and keep that prosecco flowing. They unanimously and without word forge through to maintain the special occasion. It’s more than the idiosyncrasies of the privileged.

Because this ensemble cast effectively nails the humor, it’s easy to overlook the signs that something is amiss. Knightley and Goode nail the charming but frazzled hosts and parents of three. Punch steals every comedic moment handed to her, and Howell-Baptiste earns plenty of laughs as the put upon girlfriend trying to navigate the rocky waters of this social setting. Davis, through innocent curiosity, works as the catalyst to the grim finale.

One cozy holiday evening unravels into something far more horrifying and unexpected. And it gets bleak. When the comedy seems to spin its wheels and stall, Griffin sucker punches her audience the moment she pulls back the curtain, recontextualizing everything that came before. Understandable cowardice and existential dread underscore Silent Night and bring as many laughs as it does gasps. Still, Griffin’s breezy and easily accessible approach means that glaring questions of responsibility only truly settle in once the shock has worn off. Yet despite the tragedy that ensues, something is comforting about how Griffin uses pitch-black humor to relay her morality tale. A tenderness keeps the tragedy from swallowing this narrative whole and a light that counters the heavily flawed but endearing characters. That’s important because Griffin also isn’t afraid to get unflinchingly blunt and brutal.

Silent Night will release in theaters and exclusively on AMC+ this December.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3683574/tiff-review-silent-night-hides-grim-tragedy-within-awkward-christmas-comedy/

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