Music and Dark Comedy: Silent Night (2021)
Anyone who knows me is well-aware that I’m always watching movies. All year every year, I obsessively inhale them and catalogue them. It’s pathetic, really. And December is a special month for Hank. Not just because he gets the treat of watching Love, Actually again with his terrible friends, but because he has an excuse to catch up on all the movies he missed from the rest of the year! And what a plus it is when one’s a pitch-black Christmas comedy!
Silent Night has been on my radar for several months, but it’s out now and the other day I took time out of my very busy schedule to watch it. I was floored. It’s difficult to sit through in all the best ways, centering itself on horrible people wrought with horrible angst and misery on what may be the last night of humankind.
Now, my girlfriend didn’t care for Better Watch Out--a favorite Christmas movie of mine--but she doesn’t love darkness in her holiday-fare. Believe it or not though, the market for Christmas horror movies is just as big as the same is for Elf and The Polar Express! People like gore as much as others like to smile. And Silent Night’s a rough-go for both camps.
And why is that? Well that, my friend, has to do with its roots in dark comedy. Dark comedy is like horror, but it’s far more raw than the fantasies of Evil Dead and The Excorcist, because due to its planting firmly in the soil of social-satire, it hits harder. The Evil Dead is a gateway horror film while Todd Solondz’ Happiness is hard for many to sit through. Robin Williams’ best movie, and many don’t think this, is World’s Greatest Dad. So why haven’t you heard of it? The answer is that people don’t like dark comedy. They think they do, but they think what I’m talking about is Family Guy and South Park, but true dark comedy is the type of stuff that drags humanity into the realm of the absurd, and calls for its viewers to address the darkness in themselves. It finds the inherent comedy in human misery, and people don’t care for that.
Now, why am I up on the WIDR blog yammering on about TV and movies? Well, unsurprisingly, soundtracks hit twice as hard for me when they’re in a dark comedy. “Under Pressure” in World’s Greatest Dad and “Strokin’” in Killer Joe are some of my favorite uses of pop music in film, and while The Death of Dick Long forced me to reevaluate Nickelback, Silent Night has done something even wilder: it makes damn-fine use of Michael Buble.
In contrast to the songs on It’s Christmas, Silent Night is bleak as they come. It follows a group of friends on what seems to be your standard Christmas Eve. At their estate, Nell and Peter swear like sailors in front of their children as they prep for their guests’--college friends of theirs--arrival. The viewer knows something’s off from the outset, but Michael Buble’s appearance on the radio lightens the mood if only for a moment. All of the characters--we’re talking families in three separate vehicles and a house--have their dials locked on the Christmas station (not one as lit as 89.1 WIDR FM, mind you) and all engage in the singing-along to new song--one possibly written for the film--“The Christmas Sweater” despite some of our characters denouncing it as it begins. But it’s not just the song’s is almost chilling in this one, something that only in this context occurred to me. It foreshadows something hokey and fake is to follow, despite its dark melodic undercurrent. It acts as both a stark juxtaposition of the pitch-black narrative, but also a hint at it. It’s not something that was ever intended by Mr. Buble, I’m sure, but it’s like it was made for this movie. It makes another appearance at the end too, to quite a different effect, and it’s quite a spectacle. You should watch it, because I can’t spoil it.
Music in dark comedy--as the youth say--just hits different. I’ll likely continue this series, because this one isn’t the only one that gets the Hank Seal of Approval. As for Silent Night, that kid from Jojo Rabbit is in it and he kills it again, and though it’s not fireside family fare, it really is something special. It’d make a nice companion piece for A Charlie Brown Christmas--the perfect picture of holiday depression. (And while some don’t revel in sadness at this time of year, dark comedies make me feel a hell of a lot better.) So, Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! And if you’re listening to Michael Buble this year, my advice is do so before watching Camille Griffin’s Silent Night.