[Interview] Camille Griffin for SILENT NIGHT

[Interview] Camille Griffin for SILENT NIGHT
Courtesy AMC+ & RLJE Films
In Camille Griffin ‘s feature directorial debut, SILENT NIGHT, in true British fashion, while the rest of the world faces impending doom, a group of old friends reunite to celebrate Christmas in the comfort of an idyllic country home. Burdened with the inconvenience of mankind’s imminent destruction, they adopt a stiff upper lip, crack open another bottle of prosecco and continue with their festivities. But no amount of stoicism can replace the courage needed for their last night on earth.

Recently Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with Camille Griffin about her satirical holiday-horror film, where they discussed the parallels between the film and the pandemic, what originally inspired the story behind SILENT NIGHT, and how the film argues pro-society more than anything else.

I loved the film even though it traumatized me to an extent [Laughs]. It’s crazy the parallels between the film and what we are experiencing with the pandemic. 

Camille Griffin: We didn’t know there was going to be a pandemic. So none of the material was written or filmed or finished with the intention of traumatizing people, obviously, we had to finish the film. But I did intend to create a debate and I did hope that the comedy would facilitate the horror. It’s very interesting cause I’m thrilled that I’d been invited into this horror world of filming because I think that’s cool. I was like, wow, I’ve made a horror film. As someone who has a Chucky doll, who I think is terrifying, it’s interesting [SILENT NIGHT] was traumatizing [Laughs].

It felt far more real than a Chucky doll [Laughs]. Since this story was conceived before the pandemic, what inspired the story?

Camille Griffin: My mother was French Sicilian and my stepfather was kind of posh aristocratic. So I was brought up as an outsider in the middle-class system in the UK. I learned very young that I didn’t trust those in authority. All the material I’ve ever written because it’s taken me a long time to make the film has really been challenging the values of the dysfunctions in the middle classes. I think it’s really fascinating that because people speak in a posh accent or they live in nice homes that the social services don’t knock on our doors and ask us if we’re abusing our children. It’s only now pedophilia is coming out in private education. [Parents] send their kids to boarding school. They abandon their kids. They don’t bring their kids up. I went to boarding school at the age of seven, so I had a very interesting childhood. I’m not sitting here saying poor me, but I knew very early on that my theme was going to be about shining the light on the class system as such. Also, in the British film industry they make either kitchen sink working-class stories, and they do a phenomenal job of that or they make period dramas or they make Richard Curtis movies. And it pisses me off because actually what they don’t do well enough is make enough horror movies. Ben Wheatley makes amazing movies, but they all kind of happen outside of the system, which pisses me off a bit. Parodying my own class or two to make a satire of my own class system, it was easy to party the genre that comes with it.

The element of Christmas was easy because I also learned quite recently that if I’m going to explore this dark material to use humor. The great thing about Christmas is this is a time of year where we become hopeful and we try and become better people. We try and think of all the people we haven’t spoken to and the friends we’ve abandoned or the family that we should take care of, all the people that don’t have homes and need food. It’s the time where everyone comes in and goes, let’s be better people. It’s a fantasy in a way because we then go back to being our kind of crappy selves for the rest of the year [Laughs]. I find the absurd funny, and I find life painful but I think I’m a hopeful person. I have kind of a complex mixture of all those elements inside of me. So, I didn’t go, I’m going to do this, this and this. It just came out but it seemed to make sense. As I was writing I was going, oh, I think this is funny, this might work. It was the first time I’d given up [unintelligble] getting funded in the film industry. I was like, I’m going to make this independently and make it with my friends and try and find a bit of money. I went to Matthew Vaughn for advice because I’ve been rejected in this industry more than… I’ve made a list of all the schemes I’ve been on, all the short films I made, all the training I’ve done, the jobs I’ve had. And it was like, God I was crazy to not give up. So this was my last chance. It was like, if I can’t get this film made, I’m done. Which is interesting cause it was the one that got made.

[L-R] Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Kiera Knightley, Matthew Goode and Annabelle Wallis in the drama/horror SILENT NIGHT
From what I had read, there seemed to be slight pushback that SILENT NIGHT could be perceived as anti-vaccine, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Can you elaborate on that more? 

Camille Griffin: It’s very painful for me to hold anti-vaccine conversations because I’m passionately pro-vaccine. And for me, it’s a very simple thing: Nobody wants to put a needle in their arm and put [something] inside their body that they don’t know what it is, but we do it because we do know that it stops…we don’t want to kill other people so you take the vaccine, I believe because you care for the greater good of society. The point is, no one takes the vaccine because they want it. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. The whole point of the film is it’s a socialist argument with the boys going, what about the underrepresented? What about the fragile? What about the abandoned? The boy’s challenging and questioning the grey area of emergency and the information that’s shared during an emergency. He’s saying, how do we know what’s going on? And he’s debating the use of a suicide pill, not a life-saving vaccine. It’s unfortunate in the language he says, what about scientists? And I think that’s really where people hook on, like why is some shit scientist in charge of whether I live or die. If you were to ask a child now what’s a scientist they’d go, people who make vaccines. But scientist means a lot of things. It means environmentalists. It means ecologists. It means it’s a very broad term. And unfortunately, because I was trying to make the film through the eyes of a child, we use these broad terms. So there are unfortunate references we can get for, oh, it’s an anti-vax film, but it’s not. Anti-vaxxers use this expression of what’s in the vaccine as an excuse. Even the people who take the vaccine go, what’s in the vaccine? But we do it anyway. So it’s an argument anti-vaxxers use but really what they want to say is I’m a selfish fucker. They don’t want to say, I don’t care about anyone else. So the film is arguing pro-society but I understand why people jumped to that conclusion.

The entire cast is amazing but who really stood out to me was Roman. His performance was incredible. How was it getting all these people together for the film?

Camille Griffin: Did you know Roman is my kid? [Laughs].

Holy shit! Oh my god, I did not even connect that!

Camille Griffin: That’s okay! Some people know. Some people don’t [Laughs]. The three boys are mine. I don’t know if he would have done it if I hadn’t been related to him. Davida McKenzie who plays Kitty is the little sister of Thomasin McKenzie from Jojo Rabbit. So one of the reasons why the kids were in the movie was because, as I said, I thought I was going to make it for no money and make it with whatever was around me, which was my friends, my children, my dog in the house, whatever. And then the other reason, which is a very important reason was I knew that the film was going to be a quick shoot, a fast shoot, a lot of big names on the set. There was a lot to manage and I didn’t want another person…I’m not saying I chose to traumatize my kids instead, but I knew that my kids wouldn’t be traumatized by that material and I knew they’d be safe. Everyone’s mean to that poor kid Kitty. Everyone hates Kitty so I couldn’t just bring in a stranger on the set and have everyone be mean to them. So there was a safety element of having my children on the set, that they could handle the environment and handle the material and it wasn’t going to hurt them. So that’s one of the reasons why the boys were in the film. There’s a shared journey in the house. My husband’s a cinematographer. I’ve been trying to make films for 20 years. I used to be in the camera department. We don’t live and breathe cinema but it’s the language in our house. It made sense for us all to work together and I’m grateful [for that].

The cast…Keira Knightley changed everything. She came on board right at the beginning and is perfect because there’s an element of us using cliche expectations of who these characters are. The audience goes, oh, it’s a Keira Knightley movie, and I think it’s part of the satire and playing against this class system. So when she said yes I was like, wow, that’s brave. She’s cool. And she is cool!. She’s a properly cool human being

With this film being so layered, is there anything you hope the audience takes away from it upon viewing?

Camille Griffin: The overriding message is let’s try and take care of each other and let our children have a voice. They have to inherit the sins of their elders. Let’s be responsible for our sins even if we don’t feel we’re directly related to climate catastrophe ourselves, we still play a part in it. Like, recycle your plastic for god sake. But the point is, you can’t control death and I think, as you get older, it’s a sad thing. You can’t predict death. When I had kids, that’s all I became fearful of is how to protect them and I became terrified of everything, and I was already terrified of everything, but brave in the situation. So I think really the message is we can strive for perfection but let’s not forget there’s going to be a ton of shit that comes in the middle of it. Let’s find a way to be loving in the face of catastrophe. I hope that all these exaggerated themes and all these kinds of comedic moments can let people once they’ve overcome their own trauma to go well, what would I do, and how do I think, and what do I care about? It’s like, let’s look at all our mess and see what we can tidy up. We can’t tidy up everything but let’s try a bit better.

SILENT NIGHT is now in theaters and streaming exclusively on AMC+.

Shannon McGrew
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