This Queer short film review was the bonus short review for my “Queer Christmas Shorts for 2020” post.
This last Queer Christmas short for 2020 is a bit different from all of the others – it’s dark. Yet equally it’s hauntingly beautiful. (Or am I just a bit morbid?) The Christmas & Holiday season is not cheery and happy for all, and this film gives us a glimpse of what they may be going through. Perhaps they lost a loved one around the holidays, or it’s their first holiday without that loved one. Perhaps they’re homeless or lost, feeling broken and unwanted – which is made worse when everyone is supposed to be full of happiness and cheer. “A Silent Night” perfectly fits that bill, let’s break down how.
[Note: the synopsis and storyline might be a trigger to some.]
Synopsis of “A Silent Night”
As the acoustic sound of a guitar begins a slow dirge-like version of “Silent Night”, a young man wakes up laying on a bed in the arms of an older gentleman. Slowly realising the old man’s arms are wrapped around his shirtless body, he pushes the gentleman’s arm off to the side before sitting up on the edge of the bed. Spying the man’s wallet sitting on the nightstand, the young man quickly grabs it before he slips away into the bathroom. After pondering something, he finishes off a line of cocaine before retuning to his room, dressing, and slipping out of the room. The old man stirs, sees that the young man has left him. When he realises his wallet his not on the nightstand, he first looks on the floor before falling back onto the bed, looking dismally off in the distance.
Our young man is walking past a shop in town, pausing at the window display before going inside. Inside he purchases a gift, passing over the cash to a female cashier who just stares at him. A quick glimpse back at the old man’s home shows him sitting beside the cold fireplace, gazing tenderly over a photograph. But our young man keeps walking on this cold, lonely night. Yet he recalls a happier time, he and a young man laughing at each other while they decorate their Christmas tree. They seem to be in love. But this year, that same second young man is decorating the tree alone while gazing out the front window. Suddenly, he sees our young man standing outside before he walks to the door. But our young man is not welcome; he is told to leave. But before walking away dejected, he gives his ex the gift: a Christmas card.
While the ex opens and reads what’s written inside the Christmas card, he has his own vision of happier times together. Meanwhile, our young man enters a church, walking down the aisle. And our older gentleman tightens a belt around his neck. As our female acoustic singer finishes the song, we have a montage of the three stories: our young man sitting in the pew at church; the ex still gazing down at the Christmas card; and the old man closing the closet doors with him inside while the picture frame lies on the bed.
If I could sum up “A Silent Night” with one word, it would be taunting. The storyline is rather flimsy, vaguely stringing together three men whose story is actually not even told. Yet writer/director Rocky Marquette gives subtle hints along the way. The old man fondly looks at a photograph – but we don’t know what that photograph is. Given the longing and the feeling of emptiness radiating from the old man, we can presume it’s his deceased partner. The young escort buys a gift at the shop, but don’t actually see what he buys – until later. Yet even still, that Christmas card has writing inside that stirs up emotions with the ex – but we never see or find out what exactly is written inside. Lastly, when the old man closes the closet doors, we actually don’t know the outcome (though unfortunately, it’s not usually a positive outcome). It draws us in, taunting us as we watch and wonder how it will all unfold.
Cinematographically, it’s hauntingly beautiful – stunning almost, but in an eerie way. Cinematographer & Editor Adam Jones skilfully balances the moods with the colour scheme: bright colours during the happier memories; dark and cool colours in the other moments. Sure, there’s the bright lights of Christmas, but that just helps create the overall feel of the season – which itself is a juxtaposition against the dark story unfolding. The camera work itself is an odd blend as well, drastically slow (almost as if they slowed it down in post-production) during the film. Cutting back and forth, weaving together a story in three parts, is an equally skillful aspect that makes this queer short work. But most importantly, the song! The slow, acoustic version of “Silent Night”, sung by Maya Solovey, brings all of the pieces together: the tempo, the pacing, the darkness – it simple just works and is captivating.
Unfortunately, it’s not without flaws. I’m not a huge fan of films that keep skipping around between stories; and “A Silent Night” really pushed the limit. This is a decision spread between two categories: the plot/script & the direction/editing. Pulling in few other things, I felt I couldn’t justify a full rating for both categories. Additionally, because there is actually no dialogue in this short, I was faced with a new dilemma – I can’t fully judge the acting without dialogue! Yes, acting is as much of the physical motions and unspoken subtext, but without the dialogue, I can’t give it a full rating. Lastly while the story itself is dark, so are most of the scenes – literally! It’s actually hard to see parts of the film because of lighting issues. Add all of this up, and I feel that despite truly enjoying “A Silent Night”, I can’t give it too high of a rating.
“A Silent Night” is dark, even a tad depressing. The titular song, sung in a hauntingly slow acoustic version takes this queer short to a new level. Yet, it’s also oddly comforting. Despite the handful of flaws, there’s just something about this short that I really enjoy. So if you’re ready to take a break from the happy, cheery Christmas films of the season, give “A Silent Night” a viewing. I’m sure a handful of you will find it dismal, but I hope some of you enjoy it as much as I.