‘Silent Night’ Director Defends Her Divisive Christmas Horror Story

On making a film about the end of the world at “the end of the world” and what she learned from Taika Waititi.

Silent Night

“If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl … it’s on TOO TIGHT.”

You may recognize this as the tagline for the iconic 1974 Canadian slasher film Black Christmas. But it could also be part of the marketing campaign for the latest addition to the ever-expanding Christmas horror canon: Camille Griffin’s Silent Night

With a star-studded cast that includes Keira Knightley (the Pirates of the Caribbean films), Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey) Annabelle Wallis (Malignant), Lily-Rose Depp (Tusk), and Griffin’s real-life son Roman Griffin Davies (Jojo Rabbit), Silent Night follows a group of old friends who bring their respective families together for Christmas. What starts as an emotionally-charged reunion set to Michael Bublé’s “The Christmas Sweater” quickly becomes a terrifying tale of merry morbidity as we learn that this will not only be the group’s first holiday together, but also their last night on earth.

Ahead of Silent Night’s debut in theaters and AMC+ on December 3, we spoke with Griffin about her first feature’s frightening journey from script to screen, including the pros and cons of working with your kids, what she makes of the audience reactions linking the film to the anti-vax movement, and how Jojo Rabbit inspired her to tell this darkly comedic story. 

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Camille Griffin

Read the interview (edited and condensed for length) below.

Dread Central: I wanted to start out with a question I think about a lot: Why do you think that Christmas, in particular, lends so well to horror stories?

Camille Griffin: I think it’s because at Christmas, all our emotions, everything, is heightened. You miss a friend you haven’t spoken to a few years, or you feel like you’re going to be generous to your best friend’s boyfriend, or your mother-in-law or whatever it is. We go above and beyond to try and be kind or decent or honorable or generous or to think about the homeless person or to go out of your own. People, they come together in a way that they haven’t all year round.

For some reason, there’s something about Christmas that propels a sense of “Let’s be our best selves.” And with that, I think, comes this huge amount of sentimentality. And that’s why it’s so easy to stamp on it. 

DC: You’ve worked on a lot of films, but this is your first feature as a writer and director. I wanted to know why this story, in particular, is the one that you wanted to tell as your feature debut. 

CG: I wanted to tell 20 films as my feature debut, but I couldn’t get them made. I mean, that’s the problem: you keep going or you don’t keep going, but I just kept going. You write a film, you spend three/four years on it, and you’re going, “Now, this is going to be the one.”

By the way, I think you are a writer as well, right?

DC: Yeah.

CG: So, you know how that feels. It’s like you write something, you’re like, I’m going to get this made. And then no one wants to make it. Then you go, okay. You get over that, you recover, you write another one. Oh no, no one’s made this one. So, it goes on and on and on. In the end, I went, fuck it, fuck them all, I’m going to write a film that I want to make. And I’m going to make it without any of them. 

My son, Roman [Griffin Davis], had been trying for two years to become an actor. He wanted to become an actor—we didn’t want him to become an actor, I just want to make that clear. I was on the set of Jojo Rabbit and Taika [Waititi] is this extraordinary person. I thought, oh my God, he’s funny. He uses comedy to talk about difficult things. I was like, “God, if you use comedy, you can do anything.”

So, I came back from that and I sat down and I wrote the script for Silent Night very quickly. I mean, obviously I’ve done lots of drafts of it now, but I wrote this in two weeks. 

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Roman Griffin Davis in the drama/horror SILENT NIGHT, an AMC+ and RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of AMC+ and RLJE Film

Also Read: Silent Night Review The Apocalypse Is Under the Tree

I’d sit down at dinner and I’d make all the kids listen. They were all tolerating my kind of failed attempt at being a filmmaker for years. They’re like, “Okay, yeah, we’ll listen to this. Okay, all right, mom.” And I was like, I’m going to make this because I’m going to do what I want to do. 

Then I reached out to [Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service director] Matthew Vaughn, who is someone I’d worked with before and my husband had worked with a lot. My husband said, “He’s not going to make it, this movie … Matthew Vaughn makes gangster action things.” I said, “Well, maybe he’ll have some advice.” And he said, “Let’s make it.”

So, it wasn’t really why this in particular—this was the first comedic attempt I’d made at criticizing my class system. 

DC: I understand that this idea came about before COVID, but I related to the themes of isolation and uncertainty about the future. Have you been getting feedback like that from people talking about this film and how do you feel about that?

CG: I think you know I’ve had feedback where it’s like, she’s made an anti-vax film. I mean, first of all, I think it’s clear that I didn’t make a film knowing there was going to be a pandemic. I certainly didn’t write a film knowing there was going to be a pandemic. It hurts me that it hurts people, Silent Night. I don’t want it to hurt people, I genuinely don’t. I wish I was one of those directors who didn’t give a shit about anyone. There are plenty of them out there. But I do. So, it does hurt.

Have I made an anti-vax film? Of course, I haven’t. I’ve made a socialist argument film. I’m criticizing white posh people for being racist, selfish, Republican Conservatives, for not being good parents. But I’ve given them characters and they’re also funny and charming. 

But [what] I am making, as someone said, it’s not woke or not woke. I am intentionally making a parody of my class system. I’m vaccinated, my whole family is vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers are Republican, they’re Conservatives, so I’m criticizing that area. 

This is a pro-socialist film. [Roman’s character] is saying, “What about poor people? What about the people who have been abandoned and neglected and not cared for? The people that need our help?” So clearly there is nothing anti-vax about this film, except the very unhelpful word, scientist When I was writing the script, I was going, should he say environmentalist? He’s talking about the distribution of information during an emergency.

Also Read: This Silent Night Trailer Is A Spooky And Gloomy Holiday Affair

So, the parallels with the pandemic make me feel heartbroken. Did I predict this? Well, can we predict where our world is going to? Yes, people are predicting it now, [saying] it’s going to get worse… The pandemic might get better, but the environment’s going to get worse. If we don’t all sit up and start taking care of each other, our world is going to turn to shit, metaphorically or physically. So, it’s easy to predict when you’re a 47-year-old cynical misery gut like me… 

It’s interesting because it’s like, you kind of get punished for doing something a bit different. It’s very interesting because I’ve clearly made something that’s marmite because people passionately love the film, and some people are passionately offended by the film…

But the point is, we should celebrate opinion. I’m not saying because I have an opinion everyone should agree with it or listen to it. But I think it’s a shame because I’m clearly trying to do something that I think is important. 

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[L-R]Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Kiera Knightley, Matthew Goode and Annabelle Wallis in the drama/horror SILENT NIGHT, an AMC+ and RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of AMC+ and RLJE Films.

DC: I do think that Silent Night will result in some positive conversations between people. 

CG: I hope so.

DC: I was watching another interview with you and you were talking about how this idea sparked a bit from conversations you had with your kids.

CG: Yeah, 100 percent. Yeah.

DC: But I was wondering how it was for you to work with your kids, especially Roman because—without spoiling too much—he plays such a pivotal and devastating role. Was it tough to separate yourself as a parent? 

CG: I think what was tougher was watching him work on Jojo Rabbit, if I’m honest. Because I couldn’t interfere. 

That was a remarkable, remarkable experience for him working with remarkable people. And Taika became a friend to all of us. It was a very, very special experience, but it was hard for him. It wasn’t easy making that film.

There were times [during shooting Jojo Rabbit] when I was sitting there thinking, am I doing the right thing as a parent? I wouldn’t do this. I don’t like this for my child. So, you start to think, well, am I selling my soul? Am I selling my kid’s soul? It’s very confusing being the parent of a child actor because I’m not ignorant to that stuff. I have been around the film industry for a long time, so has my husband.

So, I think with [Silent Night], and I don’t want to go, it was different because I’m his mother. We have these conversations at home. We swear at each other. We don’t sit around and use the F word 20 times a day, but we do use it three times a day. I’m not proud of that, but that’s who we are. So, we have these conversations and my kids can tell me to eff off and they can say, no, mum, I’m not doing that.

So, I knew that my kids were the best prepared to play those roles because they could go “Why would I say that? I’m not saying that, I’m not doing this. Oh my God, don’t make me…” So, in a way, I wanted whoever played those parts to be safe and to have the security to do what they needed to do. I thought if a stranger’s child came in and there was a big crew, fast schedule, lots to do, tricky material, it would be hard for them. I didn’t want my child to experience some of the things I felt my son had experienced in someone else’s film. 

Also Read: These 10 Holiday Horror Titles Should be on Your Shortlist

I’m not trying to sit here and go, “Roman had a bad time on Jojo Rabbit.” He didn’t. But he had to run through battle scenes. He had to see someone hanging. There was traumatizing material. And a child needs a support system to be able to do those things. And he had it. But it was still tricky.

So, I’m saying, I knew my kids would be fine playing those roles. They do a brilliant job. And Roman’s difficult—because I’m his mother, he doesn’t always listen to me. In fact, we’re having terrible arguments these days, because he won’t listen to me. But he’s very, very good. And he understands me. Unfortunately for him, he is half a product of me and half a product of his father, and he’s a product of himself. So, it did make sense. It wasn’t just about, “Oh, I’ve got this kid and he’s good and I’m going to give him a job.” There were lots of elements that came into that decision.

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Roman Griffin Davis in the drama-horror Silent Night. Photo courtesy of AMC+ and RLJE Films

DC: If you could pair a movie with Silent Night, for a double feature, what do would it be? My mind immediately went to Peter’s Friends (1992). 

CG: I feel like they should watch something really cheerful afterward. I feel like it could be Melancholia versus Love Actually

But I have to be honest, I love the film, Festen. I don’t know if you ever saw Festen?

DC: No, I haven’t. 

CG: Oh my God, it’s genius. It’s [Thomas] Vinterberg. It’s one of the best films—you’d love it. But I wouldn’t say that I’d pair it with that. 

I’d actually pair Silent Night with something really uplifting. Something to mend the hearts of those who are a bit traumatized. It’s like when my kids have a nightmare, I’m like, “Think of bunnies jumping through fields.” When I was a child and I couldn’t sleep, I was like, bunnies jumping through fields in the sun, in the rain.

But yeah, I do think it’s easy to go Melancholia, or Peter’s Friends. And I’m grateful that people immediately tap into those references. But I think maybe something like Black Beauty, the horse movie, something really sweet.


Silent Night opens in theaters and AMC+ on December 3, 2021, courtesy of AMC+ and RLJE Films.

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