While that sounds potentially intriguing, “Silent Night” doesn’t reach the fizzy heights of the familiar comedies that served as inspiration. It’s never all that amusing, and the characters feel like paper-thin versions of the kind of charmers we see in such films. At the same time, Griffin’s movie rarely achieves the suspenseful, unsettling vibe she’s aiming for once the story takes a dark turn around the halfway point. Several actors among the strong ensemble have standout moments—especially Roman Griffin Davis, the filmmaker’s son, who made such an impression as the young star of “Jojo Rabbit.” But on the whole, these are barely-there characters, so it’s difficult to care whether they live or die—or even whether they will choose to live or die.
The day begins with the usual combination of cheer and dread as couples and families gather for a Christmas feast at the home of Knightley’s Nell, her husband, Simon (Matthew Goode), and their three kids; besides Roman Griffin Davis’ Art, Hardy and Gilby Griffin Davis play twins Hardy and Thomas. (Griffin’s husband, Ben Davis, a veteran cinematographer whose work includes “Eternals,” “Doctor Strange,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and several Matthew Vaughn films, also contributed behind the scenes. Vaughn is among the film’s producers, so the project feels like a family-and-friends affair all around.) The first sign that something is amiss amid the usual hustle and bustle is the fact that all of these tween-age children get to swear with wild abandon while they’re getting ready. Art cuts his finger while slicing carrots, bleeding all over the vegetables in an ominous sign.
Then Nell’s preening sister, Sandra (Annabelle Wallis), arrives in a red-sequined, body-hugging stunner of a gown, complete with sparkly heels she bought with the money meant as college fund for prissy daughter Kitty (Davida McKenzie). Then again, everyone is overdressed, with Simon and the twins in tuxes, contributing to the vibe that something’s just a bit off. Also among the group are Sandra’s dull husband (Rufus Jones), as well as physician James (Sope Dirisu), the one who got away from when they all attended school together, and James’ much younger girlfriend, Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp). And there’s brash Bella (Lucy Punch) and her girlfriend, Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who watches and takes it all in as the night unravels.