According to the 2021 TIFF Q&A with Silent Night writer/director Camille Griffin and cast members Keira Knightly (Atonement), Matthew Goode (The King’s Man), and Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Rabbit), their film was one of the last to wrap production in London before lockdown began. I mention this because the content within Silent Night immediately conjures fears of isolation and mortality from a deadly pathogen that we’ve been dealing with for nearly three years. Knowing that Griffin’s idea was not inspired by current events doesn’t entirely soothe any immediate hesitancy over watching her film, it should be noted that, within the research for the initial theatrical review, I discovered that the original idea for her film was to include a pathogen, but it was deemed too much, too ridiculous, by her manager. So, instead, Griffin shifted the malignant force to that of nature itself, maintaining the inevitability of mass death, but through the lens of humanity’s deliberate poisoning of nature and refusal to enact any corrective measures. Thus, Silent Night is a tale of a small group’s last night on Earth, not because of some mutation within nature, but humanity’s degradation of nature. If not for the capable cast bringing some stiff upper lip/scruples comedy to life within the script, the whole would be far more devastating than expected. Most importantly, if not for Silent Night receiving a home release, the questions which arise from the film might never receive any kind of guiding answers.
If you’d like to learn about Silent Night without spoilers, I recommend heading over to the initial release spoiler-free review. Moving forward, the film will be discussed without regard for the secrets of the narrative.
Its Christmas Eve and Nell (Knightley) and her husband Simon (Goode) are squirreling about the house, preparing the imminent arrival of their schoolmates for their annual Christmas dinner. Nell works to prep a delicious meal, while Simon tries to organize their three kids, Art (Davis) and twins Hardy and Thomas (Hardy and Gilby Griffin Davis), and the home. The idea is to offer everyone the best Christmas Eve possible as it will be the last…not because of time, distance, and diverging lives among friends, but because there’s a toxic storm approaching which will reportedly wipe out humanity. Given special pills by the government to ease them to their deaths and minimize suffering, these friends gather together in hopes of facing their final moments in cherished company. But, like most holiday plans, nothing quite goes as expected, even death.
When I finished Silent Night initially, the ending frustrated me only in the sense that the final shot left too much unanswered. Art spends a great deal of the film asking questions that the adults seem resistant to answer. As a parent, some of it may come from an inclination to protect your children from hard truths. There’s also the very British way in which “Keep Calm and Carry On” from World War II became an everyday mantra so that the questions Art asks have no answers simply because no one thought to look for them. Thus, upon Art waking up in the final shot, his face covered in blood from his seizures, he’s appears the reluctant and unlikely survivor. But is he actually alive or is there something more to it? With the home release come three slightly different alternate endings, each one using the final moments of the Nell, Simon, and the twins as the start, transitioning to the next morning, where all the members of the house are shown in varies states of stillness. The first alt-ending includes a voice-over indicating that telecom servers are getting pings, so if you have survived, please contact a number for assistance. This voiceover combined with Art’s awakening imply that humanity had given up instead of fighting to survive, including trying to see what happened to portions of the globe after the toxic storm passed through. The other two alt-endings are variations on the first, just without the voice-over and with some version of Art leaving the house, confirming that his body didn’t just jolt his eyes open, but that he did actually survive his seizure and accompanying bloodletting. None of these endings make any clearer what Griffin’s intent is by Art waking up. Is this meant to imply that it’s up to the next generation to set things right with nature? Is it meant to imply that adults in our very real current life should stop pretending that they know what they’re doing and pass the torch to our children? (Given the violence in Ukraine by Putin and the resistance coming from youth around the world, she may have a strong point there.) Whatever the case, all one can presume for certain is a small measure of hope that humanity remains and has the chance to rectify their behavior regarding Earth and its resources.
By the by, the four deleted and/or extended scenes, while interesting, do little to shake-up the film and what we see. There’s more fore-knowledge about the Bella having slept with Tony in their younger years revelation that comes during a group truth sessions, more to the charades sequence, and more between the respective couples in individual moments. As interesting as these scenes are, they do little to enhance or alter what the final cut presents, so their exclusion makes considerable sense.
Given the opportunity, the one thing I would’ve loved is a director’s commentary track from Griffin. Not just because it would provide a way to hear from the writer/director about her ideas which birthed the concept, as well as possibly hearing about how the original concept evolved into what it is now, but provided a chance to get her talking about her vision or intent for the ending. It’s so open to interpretation that having a kind of guiding star would certainly help me determine if my perception is remotely close to hers. Strangely, given the difficulty in observing parents desperate to do right by their children as I myself have two young children, knowing what Griffin’s plans for Art (played by her own son) would soothe some of this parent’s anxieties.
Though it may be difficult at times to watch Silent Night given ::gestures everywhere::, it’s a strong debut from a first-time feature-length director, demonstrating talents in writing thoughtful material and bringing out strong performances from an ensemble cast. There’s truly some remarkable work at play on screen in the way these characters aren’t caricatures or stereotypes from the outset, thereby allowing the actors to breathe life into them without concern over what they represent beyond the relationships to one another. Their truthfulness in the moment enables the complex ideas of mortality and causality to rise up, leaving the audience with more than just mass death to consider, but their own ability to affect change with just a few different choices. All might be sleeping at the end of a silent night, but that doesn’t mean there’s no chance for a rebirth when the snow finishes falling and the sun warms the ground once more. Perhaps that’s what the rebirth of Art from death is intended to mean. A second chance to change humanities’ second nature.
Silent Night Special Features:
- Four (4) deleted/extended scenes
- Three (3) Alternate endings
In theaters and streaming exclusively on AMC+ in North America December 3rd, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD March 8th, 2022.