Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 23, 2022)
Given its title, should one expect 2021’s Silent Night to offer a Christmas-related tale? Yes, though it follows a much different path than the usual holiday-oriented fare.
Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) live in a lovely country estate with their three sons. Every year, they host a Christmas feast for various friends.
However, this year’s holiday meal comes with a difference, as all involved know of an impending catastrophe. With the potential end of life on the horizon, the hosts and guests attempt to deal with the situation.
“Apocalyptic doom” seems like a curious choice for a Christmas movie, especially because Night doesn’t follow the expected bleak, gloomy path – not entirely, at least. Instead, much of it brings a darkly comedic view of the subject.
Don’t expect this to become something akin to the broad wackiness of another apocalyptic tale, This Is The End, though. When Night delves into humor, it does so more in a character-based manner, one that resembles various comedies about old friends who reunite and rehash old issues.
The first acts proceeds in that manner, and with a moderately cheeky tone, Night feels like it intends to follow the aforementioned route. We get hints of impending doom, but these remain loose.
Eventually the subtext comes to the forefront and we learn the nature of the oncoming disaster. At that point, Night changes tone pretty radically.
Not that the rest of the movie lacks laughs, as it tosses out some humorous beats along the way. However, the movie shifts from snarky comedy to drama/tragedy for the most part.
To my surprise, Night handles the change of gears fairly well. Perhaps because that first act doesn’t shoot for broad laughs, it makes the shift in tone seem less jarring than it should.
The movie’s comedy tends to feel understated. While some of the characters open themselves up to caricature and easy jokes, Night doesn’t push these themes hard enough to make the film such a wacky endeavor that it can’t move to the darker moments.
As such, the dramatic elements work better than they probably should, and the addition of some suspense helps. Although most of the characters believe death to be imminent, some don’t swallow the official line so easily, and that leads us to wonder who will end up right.
The ending clearly reveals the answer to that question, but concerns about spoilers mean I won’t state this resolution. On a semi-disappointing note, the finish probably won’t surprise many viewers.
Still, I think Night creates a fairly involving mix of comedy and dark drama overall. It offers entertaining characters and forms enough emotional material to make it a mostly engaging piece.