'The Silence' (2019) Review: Shhh! It’s Not Worth A Thousand Words

By: Larissa Couto

Animals (a mix of a wasp and bat) are released from a cave and start an apocalyptic situation. They’re blind, forcing them to hunt by sound. In this scenario, we follow a family trying to survive in this new world; however, they have a slight upper hand in the need to fight for their lives against the beasts: they can handle silence due to their knowledge of sign language. While the advantage of knowing sign language is obvious, others write on a notepad to communicate, and it’s not as much of an advantage as the film tries to sell. However, this entire plot sounds like
something we’ve seen before.

The Silence shares its theme with A Quiet Place (2018): a family needs to live in silence to survive beasts that hunt by sound. And, while the movie has some important variations from John Krasinski’s film, it also shares similarities with another Netflix production, Birdbox (2018). But the similarities with other productions are what least matter in The Silence, it fails by its own faults. The movie distances itself from A Quiet Place with an important narrative choice: it reveals the monsters in the first scene. This move is straightforward—an announcement that the story you’re about to see is not concentrated on the characters, their cleverness in trying to adapt to the monster, or even the conflict between personalities and decisions. The monster is part of the story. However, without any level of spoiler, the monsters are on the screen to bring a little bit of blood and ugliness to the film, not to serve as a dive into the sci-fi genre.

Like Birdbox, The Silence trusts that those who are deprived of a sense will thrive in the end. The picture doesn’t check the boxes necessary to show an interesting (and credible) narrative about adaptation. And that is what The Silence was actually going for. The monsters suffered adaptation after being trapped inside a cave, being released without eyes; the girl adapted to a soundless world after an accident; and the father of the family adapts to a new reality where he needs to embrace a more violent side. Mirroring the other Netflix film, here we also see those who have accepted the monsters and welcome the chaos. Cult-like people try to disturb the family’s life, but fail to add any layers to the narrative—which is very flat all throughout the 90 minutes.

Stanley Tucci and Kiernan Shipka don’t compromise the already boring story, but they don’t have anything to work with. For a film desiring to be seen as horror, there’s no use of the actors’ facial expressions other than coughing or screaming a few times. And with the silence being the idea that makes the movie, the acting and camerawork should do all the work, but it’s not what we see. The first part of The Silence tries to show the inside of a car in a crafted way that reminds one a little of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. However, John R. Leonetti’s camerawork is far from an auteur project. It relies on using slow motion to visually represent silence: interleaving shaky images of the monsters. It has an effect on screen in the first shot but wears off quickly as an expected exploration of the dialectic between silence and sound.

The Silence is not guilty of using an already known idea in its story, but for making bad choices about what and how to use. Both earlier movies (A Quiet Place and Birdbox) play with the idea of this chaotic world demonstrating how the family would adapt to the silence/blindness, and each deliver their own approach to the apocalypse. Any level of debate or struggle is used, rather than killing some monsters while ringing a bell. (The use of Deus Ex Machina solutions in a few moments completely takes the audience out of the story to wonder why, in a following scene, the exact same problem is not now solved the same way.)

We’ve all seen good stories about monsters: with terrifying monsters, with the idea of a monster, and the loss of humanity that is implied in surviving in a land condemned by beasts. Unfortunately, The Silence misses the point of horror. A movie that in the first moments seemed to be evoking an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, is not even worth a comparison.

Grade: D


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