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.

Mothering Sunday: Film Review

Lionsgate

Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor lead Eva Husson‘s period romance drama as housemaid Jane Fairchild and her wealthy family’s friend Paul Sheringham, respectively.

The film revolves around one Mother’s Day in 1924. The Nivens – Colin Firth and Olivia Colman – are off out for a picnic with the Sheringhams and give their maid Jane the day off, so she enjoys a steamy illicit afternoon with Paul, despite the fact he’s supposed to be there too.

Although the narrative revolves around their sexual encounter, the film jumps back in time to reveal more backstory and how Jane and Paul met while also jumping forward to the 1940s, with Jane now in a relationship with Donald (Sope Dirisu), and again to the present day, with Jane as a writer played by Glenda Jackson.

I can appreciate why Husson chose to jump around so much – the film would have been rather dull and ordinary if it went in chronological order and it helps maintain some intrigue about the characters as you don’t learn everything about them straight away. But she got too carried away with this narrative technique. The scenes within the three major timeframes (1918-1924, the 1940s, present) aren’t even assembled in chronological order; it really is all over the place and there are no time stamps to help you so it is rather confusing and disorientating. At the start of every scene, you have to figure out which timeframe you’re in and where it fits in context with the other scenes you’ve already seen. It admittedly gets easier as it goes but it pulls you right out of the story because you’re constantly trying to make sense of everything and put it in a logical order.

Because of this jumping around and the seriously slow luxurious pace, you just don’t feel what you’re supposed to. Mothering Sunday actually tells a really sad, tragic story, but I didn’t feel anything because the structure got in the way of my emotional connection to it.

On the flipside, I have to praise the gorgeous costume and production design, the ageing work on Young and the cast. I was particularly impressed by Young, who captivates in her understated role, while O’Connor is as charming as ever. They had believable chemistry together and their roles required full-frontal nudity so hats off to them for stripping off onscreen. Dirisu comes across well but his character is rather flimsy. I wish we had got to know him better.

Colman and Firth aren’t in this film very much but they do a lot with their screentime and make an impact as bereaved parents. Colman’s Clarrie is overwhelmed by grief and in this zombie-like mournful state but she gets a couple of moments to break out of that in the best way. Firth’s Godfrey tries to be cheerful and upbeat despite their tragedy so it’s all the more heartbreaking when his facade drops.

It’s quite difficult to get fully into Mothering Sunday because the narrative constantly prevents you from doing so, which is a real shame as the story is good and the performances are excellent.

In cinemas Friday 12th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

His House: Netflix Film Review

His House

Prepare to be scared by Netflix’s His House, a haunted house story like you’ve never seen before.

The horror stars Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as Bol and Rial, a young refugee couple who make a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan and seek asylum in England. After spending time in a detention centre, they are allocated a house in a non-descript town and given a demanding set of rules to live by. Bol and Rial are thrilled to be able to start a new life and have a new home – until they realise it’s not quite the idyllic dream they were hoping for as it is haunted by ghosts from their past.

I love that writer/director Remi Weekes has used a haunted house horror story as a way to tell a story about these young immigrants, how they are treated in their new town, and the super restrictive rules they must follow when given accommodation. I had no idea about these details or how the process worked so I found the film very enlightening for that reason.

It is also scary too. I’m pretty easily spooked when it comes to haunted house films – a door opening by itself will do it for me – so this was very effective. I basically grew tense every time night rolled around in the film because I knew the ghosts were going to come out again! Some of them are pretty terrifying visually.

The revelation towards the end was very powerful and changes the game regarding your understanding of the movie and the characters, so I was a big fan of that, but there were some scenes as it neared the finale that were a bit more surreal and I didn’t fully understand them so it lost me a bit.

The lead actors are terrific, particularly Dirisu, as he has the most emotionally and physically demanding role. He really gets put through the wringer! Mosaku, who I’ve recently been watching in Lovecraft Country, seems more calm and collected, but really comes into her own towards the end. Matt Smith also pops up and puts on his best common accent as their caseworker.

Despite the little niggle about the ending, His House is a chilling original haunted house horror that provides powerful insight into the world of asylum seekers.

Available on Netflix from Friday 30th October

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.