Silent Place (2020)
★ / ★★★★
If your film is going to be a blatant rip-off of John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place,” you’d better have good ideas and a strong execution to back it up. “Silent Place,” written and directed by Scott Jeffrey, is unable to step outside of its inspiration’s shadow and so every minute feels like a drag, a cheap imitation, a wasted opportunity to take already existing ideas and push them to the next level or branch off them to make this particular story worth telling. The picture runs for about eighty minutes, but it feels twice as long.
Especially problematic are its moments of action. No, not sequences where our protagonists find themselves running desperately from a gray, rubbery-looking humanoid creature with sharp teeth but no eyes. I refer to moments when a person must get from one place to another, almost tiptoeing, while keeping noise to a minimum since the antagonist is especially sensitive to sound. These moments are filled with dead air—funny because the score is almost always booming. It feels the need to always push us to feel a certain way instead of relying on its images and circumstances to get our hearts to beat a little faster.
“A Quiet Place” does right what this movie does dead wrong. For instance, instead of the camera always focusing on the face, there are tension-filled moments when we are looking at the characters’ legs and feet. Since we might have an idea as to where or what they are about to step into (a toy that may alarm, a rope that triggers a trap that creates noise, and the like), suspense is created from seemingly simple movements. We hold our breaths due to anticipation. Here, we always focus on facial expressions—redundant because we already know the hunted are terrified. Changing the strategy from time to time goes a long way. Jeffrey’s film appears to be stuck with its usual bag of tricks. It gets real tiresome.
The plot involves a family of four (Ryan Davis, Stephanie Lodge, Georgina Jane, Jake Watkins) visiting the country because the mother’s father is sent to the hospital once again due to heart problems. Rita fears for her aging father’s decreasing quality of life and so she wishes to be there for her lonely mother who pretends to be strong in the face of uncertainty (Helen Minassian). I enjoyed the scenes in which the visiting family find themselves stuck in a rural community that is somehow seemingly abandoned. It is eerie that in the middle of the day, the picturesque town is dead silent. Not even birds can be heard chirping nearby despite the fact that there is an abundance of trees. What happened to this town? Naturally, the family members decide to split up to investigate. Cue the countdown to their discovery of blood spatters.
You may be thinking that the situational horror described sounds extremely generic. That’s because it is. The real question though is how is such an ordinary template executed? Are there enough details to make the situation specific to this story? Do characters respond to challenges in ways that are practical and intelligent? Are there surprising revelations along the way? Inspired scares? Neat special, visual, and practical effects? It is apparent that the film underachieves across these categories.
Most frustrating is when our protagonists learn that the monster uses sound to navigate, they fail to utilize this knowledge to gain the advantage. Instead, they make even more unnecessary noises. It’s enraging. The screenplay tends to rely on them gambling their lives instead of looking around first to see which object, or objects, they can use to deceive the creature. And get this: Not one of them bothers to go to the kitchen and grab a weapon. We can only take so much lack of common sense.
The poor quality of “Don’t Speak” has little to do with limited budget. The best horror flicks tend to have smart and resourceful characters. If we feel that the protagonists are really present and actively thinking of ways to extricate themselves out of tricky situations, excitement follows. But not here. We get the impression that people make it through the end not because they are most fit but because the plot requires a survivor (or survivors). It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.