Silent Night: Film Review

Altitude

This holiday season, Camille Griffin brings us a Christmas film with an apocalyptic twist – yes, really – so it’s probably not one to watch if you want to get in the festive spirit.

This ensemble black comedy/horror follows Nell (Keira Knightley) and her husband Simon (Matthew Goode) as they have their friends over for Christmas. It is their last hurrah as a toxic gas cloud is approaching and set to sweep over the land the following day. The group has to decide whether or not to take the government-issued suicide pill for a painless way out before the cloud arrives.

This film was shot in February 2020 and Griffin, who wrote the screenplay, could never have imagined the parallels her directorial debut would have with real-world events. Watching Silent Night, you can’t help but wonder what you would do in that situation – believe the government and take the Exit pill or wait and see if the cloud is as deadly as it’s proclaimed to be.

I was thrilled by the concept – it’s like a festive This is the End with upper-class Brits – and believed it held a lot of promise. I was really keen on it at the start; I enjoyed meeting all the different characters and figuring out their relationships and was amused listening to them having a bitch and gossip about each other. The arrivals section was the funniest and most well-written part of the film and I had high hopes for the ensuing day. I didn’t dislike what came next but I found it tonally uneven and felt like Griffin struggled to strike the right balance between the comedy and horror. The comedy practically tails off as the horror ramps up and I would have preferred the final act to be slightly more light-hearted.

Silent Night is very much an ensemble piece and every cast member brings something to the table. One of my favourites was Annabelle Wallis as the bitchy and self-involved Sandra who is admittedly annoying but still the most interesting as she decides to clear the air about certain issues on her final day on Earth. Knightley plays the warm, charming and likeable host, Goode gets a big emotional moment as her husband and Jojo Rabbit’s Roman Griffin Davis (the son of Griffin and cinematographer Ben Davis) is impressive here as the main opponent of the Exit pill. His real brothers – and the director’s twins Hardy and Gilby – play his onscreen brothers too. The child stars are excellent but I wish them swearing wasn’t played for laughs quite so much.

They all have solid support from Sope Dirisu as their sensible doctor friend James, Lily-Rose Depp as his significantly younger girlfriend Sophie; Lucy Punch as the outspoken, brutally honest friend Bella, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as her awkward girlfriend Alex, and Rufus Jones as Sandra’s “boring” husband Tony. They all do a fantastic job, even though their characters aren’t particularly deep and there were a few aspects of their backstories I would have liked elaborated on.

I came away from Silent Night not knowing quite what to make of it. It’s a mixed bag and quite an odd piece. Some people may find it hits too close to home due to the pandemic, but others may revel in this subversive and bleak anti-Christmas film.

In cinemas Friday 3rd December

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Queenpins: Film Review

STX Films

I was aware that extreme couponing was a thing and even a reality TV show but had never really given the practice much attention so I was fascinated to learn all about it in the throwaway comedy Queenpins.

Inspired by a true story, the film stars Kristen Bell as Connie Kaminski, a former Olympic speed walker and bored, frustrated and miserable housewife who has become obsessed with couponing and stocking up her spare room to distract her from her expensive fertility struggles and her nonexistent marriage to Rick (Joel McHale). One day, she fires off a complaint about her cereal and receives a coupon for a free box and she gets an idea to set up a scheme in which she sells fake free coupons to customers. She and her neighbour JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) – a vlogger with entrepreneurial dreams – eventually end up running a multi-million dollar counterfeit coupon ring and it soon gets noticed by a supermarket chain’s Loss Prevention Officer, Ken (Paul Walter Hauser), who teams up with U.S. Postal Inspector Simon (Vince Vaughn) to shut the scam down.

This tells a crazy, unbelievable story and I couldn’t wait to see how it unravelled. While I’m sure it takes some liberties with the truth, I still couldn’t believe Connie and JoJo got away with their scheme for so long, especially considering they don’t know how to conduct dirty business and make some ill-advised purchases. Their learning curve was the most entertaining element of the film.

While I enjoyed the coupon caper, I do wish it had been much funnier, especially given the cast involved. It should have been a laugh a minute with this ridiculous scam and Bell, McHale and Vaughn in the mix but it’s very light on the effective jokes. It tries to be funny constantly but the attempts rarely land and that’s due to a combination of weak writing and the actors not being on their comedy A-game.

I thought Bell was a good choice as the sympathetic but quietly cunning Connie. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and I really wanted her to find some other way to fulfil her life. She is balanced out well by Howell-Baptiste as the upbeat and chatty JoJo. Walter Hauser and Vaughn make a good buddy cop pairing – they should have been so funny together so it sucks their scenes didn’t deliver many laughs. McHale has a one-note small role as the douchey husband, and there is a small appearance from singer Bebe Rexha, who was ace as the mysterious tech hacker Tempe Tina. She was my favourite and I wanted to see her more.

Queenpins is lightweight and forgettable stuff but I must admit that I found it really entertaining.

On Amazon Prime Video from Friday 26th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Cruella: Film Review

Cruella

Courtesy of Disney

The animated 101 Dalmatians was one of the few Disney films I had on VHS growing up so to say I’ve seen it many times would be an understatement. While I don’t think this live-action prequel Cruella is at all necessary, it was an entertaining watch that’s very nice to look at.

The movie, set in ’70s London, tells the story of Estella (Emma Stone) and how she came to be known as Cruella de Vil, the famous villain from 101 Dalmatians. After growing up as an orphan scamming strangers with Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), Estella, who has always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, finally gets the chance to make her dream come true when Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), an industry icon and designer diva, discovers her punk-themed window display in Liberty department store and offers her job. However, it doesn’t take long for their relationship to sour and for them to become rivals.

I enjoyed watching Cruella, it felt like a breath of fresh air because it so different from all the other live-action Disney offerings – it’s darker and not aimed squarely at children – but it’s too long (two hours 14 minutes!), it lags around the middle and I don’t think the story stands up to too much scrutiny. A couple of character moments didn’t feel believable – Estella’s switch to Cruella wasn’t fully earned – and you’ll have to suspend your belief in the storyline in general, particularly towards the end. I think it’s best enjoyed if you accept that it’s lightweight and more style over substance.

And it sure is stylish! Cruella’s biggest strength is the costume, hair and make-up design. Those teams have Oscars in the bag! Their work is incredible and both Stone and Thompson have many costume changes and get to wear some absolutely stunning clothes, with my particular favourites being Cruella’s monochrome punk-inspired outfits. All hail Jenny Beavan!

Also on the visuals, the fantastic and fabulous setpieces of Cruella sabotaging the Baroness’ shows and events and upstaging her with out-there clothing were some of my favourite scenes, they were glorious to look at and heaps of fun to watch, and there are super cute dogs (Wink is so clever!) but I had some issues with the CGI. Considering this is big-budget Disney, I would have expected the CGI to be less obvious and you could really tell when a scene was done on a green screen too.

Stone is perfect, so well matched to the character, and she delivers a cheeky – if slightly hammy – devilish performance, with a solid British accent to boot. Yet, surprisingly, she is often outshone by Thompson, who is sensational as the Baroness, who gives Cruella a run for her money in the evil stakes. She gives off serious Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada vibes.

Elsewhere in the cast, Horace and Jasper are given an upgrade in terms of character development. They’re no longer just the one-dimensional bungling sidekicks, they’re Estella’s “family” and they’re not happy when she gets too big for her boots and treats them like dirt. Fry brought a lot of grounded humanity to a film that has very little of it, while Hauser is the main source of comedy and effectively delivered a few laughs.

Other cast members deserve a shout out too, such as John McCrea – who was amazing as the original lead of stage show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – as a queer clothes shop owner who becomes Cruella’s ally. There’s also Mark Strong as John, a mysterious man who works for the Baroness, Kayvan Novak as her lawyer Roger and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita Darling, a fashion journalist. Those last two names might ring a bell if you’re a fan of the animation. There are a few 101 Dalmatians references in here, but not too many.

Cruella doesn’t do enough to justify its existence and has quite a few problems, but it’s a feel-good riot led by two excellent performances.

In cinemas and on Disney+ from Friday 28th May

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.