The holiday season officially kicked off on AMC+ this past Friday with the arrival of holiday comedy/apocalyptic drama Silent Night, which is the feature film debut from U.K. writer/director Camille Griffin. The genre-bender stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis (Camille’s son), Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Ṣọpé Dìrísù, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Rufus Jones and Trudie Styler and is centered around an idyllic Christmas Eve gathering in the English countryside where a group of friends and family come together to celebrate the holiday as well as their own impending annihilation via a cataclysmic weather event which is only hours away from killing them all. If you thought Clark Griswold had a tough Christmas vacation, things in Silent Night are infinitely worse.

Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Griffin about her directorial debut and during our conversation, she discussed the inspirations behind her script for Silent Night, how crucial Keira Knightley’s involvement was to the project, her experiences collaborating with her ensemble and producers as well as her feelings about blending together such extreme tones for the project.

So great to speak with you today, Camille. I was so excited to see Silent Night because I love when you mix dramatic elements with the holidays because they make for such good bedfellows. It's a time of year where there's supposed to be all this happiness and togetherness and things like that, but  there's always so much stress and pressure, too. I would love to hear about your inspirations behind this story; it's a great character piece with a lot of really wonderful performances and I love what it says about coming together under the worst circumstances and trying to find happiness. But there's also a bigger message here as well in terms of what we've done to our world and dealing with the ramifications of all of that.

You know, we almost become different people around Christmas. It's like suddenly you want to talk to the person you haven't spoken to for five years, and suddenly you're prepared to tolerate your father-in-law, or your mother-in-law, or your sister-in-law, or whatever. And suddenly you find money you haven't had to pay your bills to buy presents. It's like it's an exaggerated form of hopefulness, and also tragedy because then you think about all the other people who don't have Christmas homes and they don't get fed and they don't have families to connect with. So it's a very exaggerated time, I think.

Also, I've been trying for a long time to make a film. I've been trying probably for over 20 odd years, maybe 25 even. I started off in the camera department as a clapper loader when they still used film. I think I was always writing stories about the middle classes and the dysfunction of the middle classes because I was brought up in a white middle class home, and I learned very young that the posh people in the U.K. have a lot of status, and that they were slightly hypocritical and they didn't really deserve their status. So I've always had an issue with the authority as such or with the value systems of the people who are most equipped to make changes in the world. So that was my underlying inspiration for everything I've ever written.

Then, I had an amazing experience with Roman on the set of Jojo Rabbit. I was observing Taika working, I was like, "Wow, he can use comedy to talk about anything." I didn't realize that. I'd written all these miserable scripts before, and I was like, "Oh, if I make them funny, then people will tolerate the argument." Because I'm that person at a party who wants to talk about serious stuff, and they're like, "Shut up, it's a party. Have a good time." I do know how to have a good time, but I'm often the one who wants to have conversations that people don't want to have. Plus, the British generally don't make films about the middle classes unless they're period dramas or they're working title movies. So for me, it made sense to parody the privilege.

The other inspiration was my children, who are also in this film, who had just watched War Horse. They were like, "What are we going to do if there's a war?" And I felt sad because I remember learning about a nuclear war when I was about eight. I saw Where the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs. It shook me. For years, I would lie in bed at night thinking we were all going to die by nuclear bombs. I remember as a child realizing there was a point in my life where you realize that the world isn't safe, right? Whether that's because you trust your parents or your teachers, you don't trust the system you're living in, or whether it's you finding out about nuclear war. But I remember that moment thinking, "We're all doomed." 

I have a melancholic side to my appreciation of the world, but I am also a positive person. So I am both those things. So I said to the kids, "Well, if there's a war, we're screwed really. Either we're going to run out of tin food, or we are going to rot with radiation poisoning or we're going to have to go into the forest and die or we’ll become zombies or eat each other." There’s nothing really hopeful about any of that so I thought that we could have a nice dinner, we lie down and we take a bunch of medications and go together. They were like, "No way. No fucking way we're doing that" (laughs). It was a ridiculous conversation and I’m sure that I have traumatized them because I'm not always the perfect parent. But how much information do you give them so that they're prepared for the world or not? 

In the first 10 to 15 minutes of Silent Night, I feel like we get to know these characters so well with such limited information, where we learn a lot from all these smaller character beats. It felt like this script could have worked just as well as a live theatrical performance Could you discuss how you approached the performances with your actors and finding all these moments with their characters in a way that felt organic? 

I mean, honestly, Heather, I'm not just saying this, but I'm very grateful for this conversation because I don't have to explain anything to you. So, thank you. I appreciate that. But I think Keira Knightley was the first part of the puzzle. Or actually, Matthew Vaughn was first. He has to have complete credit for the fact he had the courage to make this film. Because I knew what I'd written, but you don't really know your own shame. When you write a script, you don’t know how the experience is going to be for someone else. I felt like my material was darker than I realized, but he read it, and he was like, "Let's make it." So that was extraordinary.

Then Matthew said, "Who do you want to be in it?" And I was like, "Well, we have to have Keira Knightley, right?" I mean, she is Miss “Working Title.” She is projected as Miss Perfect in the U.K. which is a hard role for her, I think. So I told him Kiera but I didn't think anything of it. And then, a few months later, he called me and said, “Oh, Keira Knightley has read the script," and I was like, "Seriously?" I was really shocked. And he was like, "Yeah, and she likes it." I was like, "Really?" I couldn’t believe it.  So we talked, and we met, and she got it. I mean, she got it. I admired her for wanting to do this because this is a risky role for her - she kills her kids. But I think the role was a breath of fresh air for her.

And the entire cast is very, very talented. I think one of the elements that helped us out was that the actors weren't just jumping on board because of Keira. They really liked the script. But I think that where I was most fortunate is that, to me, society is generally split between the people who give a shit and the people who don't, and people who understand what I'm saying and people who don't. And they were like, "Yeah, we get it. We're in. We're in. We get it. That's how we see the world, and that's the energy we have." So automatically, through the casting process, that gave us the space we needed to have the intimacy to develop the characters  and play around with the comedic and dramatic tones. 

Because of the nature of the movie, in terms of dealing with these tonal extremes, was it a challenge for you to find that tonal balance and really be able to make both sides of this story work together in service of each other?

I think there were two things we had to be mindful of: there's the message behind the tone, and then, there was the actual delivery of the tone. You could be traumatized and you could be having a very difficult time, and I'm obviously generalizing here, but in a middle class world, they would just say, "Don't worry, darling, I'll make you a cup of tea." And it's like, "Mom, I just got hit by a car." "Don't worry, darling. Sit down, I'll make you a cup of tea." So the delivery and the intention is tied to just how ludicrous the Brits are. It's like the world is ending, but it's okay because I'll make you a cup of tea. So my vision of the world is like that. 

I live in that tone every day. I see the horror and the joy and the hope all around me all the time. So that, for me, was easy. I think the delivery, the actors got it, because we made sure we cast people who understood it and who were on the same page. The point of all this is that they're coming together to die, but they want the kids to have a nice Christmas. They think that's their priority. The priority is, "We're going to die, but let's die nicely." That's the whole point about the [suicide] pill. It's like let's avoid all truth and all suffering and all society's issues and die nicely and peacefully. It's all a fucking terrible joke. So that wasn't hard to do. 

Thankfully, my producers are filmmakers. They're very successful, very powerful people and this was my first film, so I didn't have the status of going, "Hey, mates, I've made five movies and won an Oscar, so please just listen to me." So they had to trust me, and I didn't always have the status to argue for what I needed. But I always argued. I drove them all crazy with my arguing (laughs). I would go, "I know this is right." And they were like, "Well, how do you know that’s right?" And I would say, "I just feel it in my gut." It wasn't always easy to convince them in the edit that I knew what I was talking about. But I did know that we had to preserve the comedy in all the drama, because the comedy was there to deliver the drama. It was to facilitate the drama. And I think it does that rather successfully.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.