When we think of Keira Knightley and Christmas movies, we think of those indelible images of a pre-“Walking Dead” Andrew Lincoln delivering his equal parts charming and creepy flash-card proclamations to her in “Love, Actually” (2003), but if you think THAT holiday moment was problematic, welcome to “Silent Night.”
Knightley is at her most charmingly warm and wonderful in writer-director Camille Griffin’s pitch-black satirical horror film, which starts off like a classic and sentimental holiday heart-warmer about a dysfunctional but mostly loving extended family that gathers at an English country estate that looks like a greeting card come to life — but quickly turns dark when we learn this is most likely the Last Christmas for everyone, and we aren’t talking about the Wham! song.
When Knightley’s Nell fills the screen with her magical smile and says the weekend is going to be all about love and forgiveness, there’s a dark cloud hovering over that wish, because if scores aren’t settled and statements aren’t made and differences aren’t resolved now, it’s never going to happen. That’s because there’s a literal dark cloud moving toward this idyllic locale in the form of a toxic mass of poisonous gas that is consuming the planet and will render everyone dead by the morning of Dec. 26. Talk about no returns on gifts!
Nell and her husband Simon (the ever-reliable Matthew Goode) are hosting Christmas, and it’s our great good fortune their son Art is played by Roman Griffin Davis, who is the son of the director and is even more entertainingly precocious and captivating than he was as the title character in “JoJo Rabbit.” (In keeping with the family theme, Griffin’s twin sons Hardy and Gilby play Art’s younger brothers.)
Among the guests arriving for some holiday cheer followed by a flood of tragic tears:
- The effusive and racy and materialistic Sandra (Annabelle Wallis from “Peaky Blinders”), her reserved and nebbishy husband Tony (Rufus Jones) and their annoying and spoiled daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie).
- Lesbian couple Bella (Lucy Punch) and Alex (Kirby-Howell Baptiste), who have very different ideas about how to spend their last hours together.
- James (Ṣọpé Dìrísù) and his much younger partner Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp), the lone American in the group, who is about to reveal she’s pregnant.
The government has generously provided every citizen with a suicide “Exit Pill” that will execute a quick and painless death within minutes of ingestion — unlike the slow, horrible, excruciating demise awaiting anyone who doesn’t qualify for a pill or refuses to go gently into that good night. (The homeless and undocumented aliens are ineligible for the Exit Pill; even when it comes to death, the government says they don’t count.) James is a doctor who has seen more than his share of suffering and he’s adamant that the Exit Pill is the only way to go, but his pregnant partner and the children in the group aren’t yet there — unlike the rest of the grown-ups, who are resigned to their fate and determined to make the most of their last night on Earth, complete with a Christmas feast and dancing and celebrations.
Writer-director Griffin deftly toggles between social/political commentary and the deadpan comedy/horror at hand, as this mostly British group does the stiff-upper-lip, carry-on thing for as long as a possible before things start to unravel in raw and brutal fashion because after all, this is the end. “Silent Night” takes some gruesome and wickedly subversive turns as the clock approaches midnight, and we’re left thinking it’s a bloody shame we didn’t meet this bunch earlier, because they must have been even more entertaining when the specter of almost certain death didn’t have a seat at the dinner table.mov