The Silence (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
As one sits through the increasingly disappointing creature feature “The Silence,” one begins to wonder why the filmmakers felt the need to tell this particular story after the outstanding “A Quiet Place” has got everyone talking. The plot is familiar: A family attempts to survive in a world overrun by monsters that are sensitive to sound. A big difference, however, is in the effectiveness of execution. John Krasinski’s picture is told with great focus and alacrity while John R. Leonetti’s work does not appear to know where to go. And given if it did, it possesses minimal conviction.
At least the creatures are somewhat interesting from a visual standpoint. At first glance, they appear to look and sound like bats, particularly when they are discovered in a cave that has been hidden for quite possibly thousands of years. Upon closer inspection, they are orange-yellow, about the size of an eagle but featherless. They have sharp teeth and hunt in groups. As expected for having lived in the dark for so long, they have no eyes. We are shown webpages and newsreels about how they are quite similar to wasps. They look menacing indeed and the screenwriters find ways for the characters to trigger loud noises—even if it means making them seem as though they have minimal survival instinct. The violence of the attacks are occasionally, and appropriately, horrific. These creatures eat their meal to the bone.
But one of the elements that separates solid monster movies from merely passable ones is from which perspective the audience experiences the story. The Andrews family is, for the most part, a bore. Stanley Tucci and Miranda Otto play the vanilla parents; Kate Trotter as the grandmother who hides her lung cancer from the children; and Kiernan Shipka and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf as the elder sister and younger brother who emote a whole lot. Shipka as Ally is supposed to be the central protagonist but we only know this because she is given narration and no one else.
She tells us about having recently gone deaf due to an auto accident. We see her being bullied by some boys at school. Clearly, these situations are introduced in order to win our sympathy. Do not be fooled. Look closely. Notice she is not given anything special or memorable to do—an opportunity to show why she is our heroine in this story. Contrast this with the Regan character in “A Quiet Place” (she is also deaf). It is abundantly clear which of the two is the more compelling figure. Which one would you rather have on your side during a time of crisis?
A group of characters are introduced late into the film. Their tongues are cut off and so they do not utter a word. They are creepy, how they are dressed in black or brown clothing. The leader focuses on Ally. It is thematically inappropriate to introduce human villains so late into the story and then disposing of them just as quickly in a most uninspired way. I felt as though they are used only to extend a film already running on fumes.
Although many might argue that the real enemy are the ancient creatures, I claim it is more about our limitations to adapt quickly and efficiently in life or death situations, especially when loved ones are involved. The enemy is our lack of understanding of, or the lack of willingness to understand, what is initially unknown. But the screenplay by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke are not interested in the more curious philosophical musings. I wager they themselves do not know what makes their story special and worth telling.