TORONTO – “Silent Night,” which debuted at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival last week, starts off like a familiar holiday comedy. Multiple friends, along with their significant others and kids, reuniting for the Christmas holiday at a beautiful home in the English countryside. There is gossiping about one friend or another and you begin to wonder what trifle of a conflict this comfort food of a film will bring about. Except, it becomes quite clear this isn’t your typical Working Title Films knock off. These characters aren’t celebrating life, they are saying goodbye to it.
“It was deeply weird, and I think the whole experience of watching the film is actually different because of what everybody has been through in the last 18 months,” star Keira Knightley says. “I think when we were making it, it was a comedy and we were going to release it as a Christmas movie and nobody was going to say that there was a twist in it where it became this completely f**ked up thing and that would have been fine, and it isn’t now. I think we can’t do that anymore. I think that the audience has changed, but I don’t necessarily think it’s for the worst, as far as film goes. I think people will have an understanding of it in a way that none of us had an understanding of it before.”
That twist to this familiar formula, which is revealed much sooner than you’d think, will make many assume director Camille Griffin’s drama was written and filmed during the pandemic. In fact, it finished shooting in a rush before the initial shutdown occurred.
“I think originally when we were doing this it was utter fiction,” Giffin says. “I remember we were starting to film in February and we were all going, ‘Oh yeah, there’s this thing in China,’ but it still wasn’t real then. Then all of a sudden we have to close the film down and it was very real, and suddenly, the parts of the film where we’re talking about the shops having been raided and there being no bottled water, and as we’re filming, we’re like, ‘The shops are being raided, and weirdly there’s enough bottled water, but we’ve already shot that scene, but it’s a shame because we should have been talking about the toilet roll because now there’s no toilet roll anywhere.’”
There’s no need for a spoiler warning now, because the twist in “Silent Night” will be a key part of its future marketing efforts over the course of the next few months. Set in the near future, the film finds the world reeling from an catastrophic environmental change that many view as Mother Nature’s revenge against the human race. A gigantic cloud of deadly gasses is scouring the globe and when exposed to humans prompts a horrifically painful death. In order to ease civil unrest, the British government has provided the population with an “exit” pill which will make death painless before the cloud arrives. Coincedentally, the ominous storm is scheduled to arrive in the United Kingdom on Christmas Day. Over the course of Christmas Eve, longtime friends played by Knightley, Matthew Goode, Annabelle Wallis and Rufus Jones, among others, debate whether to trust the government and take the pill or to throw it away and hope for the best (sound familiar?). Two voices of dissention come from the son of Knightley’s character, Art, played by “Jojo Rabbit’s” Roman Griffin Davis, and the lone American in the group, Sophie, portrayed by Lily-Rose Depp.
“When I read the script, I thought that it was so boldly unique and a story that I had never seen or heard of before and I’m always intrigued by things like that, stories that I feel like we have yet to explore. And I feel like so much of the story was unexplored,” Depp says. “My character is a mother to be, and I was really kind of broken hearted when I read the story and the fact that motherhood, which is something that I believe she really wants, being taken away from her. And I felt that she represented an aspect of the kind of maternal crisis of this movie that isn’t seen a lot either, which is not only the panic and the fear of mothers who have children who are out in the world who they’re trying to protect, but also mothers who have yet to have their child.”
Depp adds, “I also think that everything about Sophie that makes her an outsider is also there to shed light on the flaws in the other ideologies that we see at play in this movie. I just really liked that space that she occupied and also the hope that she has and the way that she fights for her truth and the things that she believes in, even when she’s faced with a group of people that are all super tight knit and they don’t really like her. I thought that that was a really beautiful kind of sense of self and of strength that she displayed.”
Griffin, who was inspired to get the film off the ground following her son’s success in the Oscar-winning “Rabbit” (she’s Roman’s mother), always meant for the film to have a deeper meaning than the audience might have expected. And she embraces how the dramatic elements have overtaken the comedic bits because of the events of the past 18 months.
“I think the point of the story is that I’ve chosen the middle classes, the privileged in the film,” Griffin says. “I don’t think they always make the right or the best decisions, and clearly they’re not as generous and they don’t have socialist values. They’re not thinking about the poor, the illegal immigrants, the people who don’t have the support that they have. So I think that is important. Do I think everybody reacts in this way? No, but I think what I think I am proud of is that we have the different stories, we have the outsiders. We have Lily-Rose’s character, we have the children. So, I try to play everyone’s argument and the story as much as I can, but fundamentally I think the characters face extraordinarily difficult decisions.”
That being said, she thinks any obvious connection between the debate over the pill in the movie and the COVID vaccine needs to be considered with serious context.
“I’m pro-vaccine. I’m vaccinated,” Griffin says. “I don’t want people to misunderstand it, the pill, as it relates to the vaccine [in the film], it’s the opposite. The pill is the way out and the vaccine is the way forward. So I think it’s very powerful that it resonates so much with our day-to-day problems”
“Silent Night” will be released on AMC+ December 3.