The Silence, 2019.
Directed by John R. Leonetti.
Starring Kiernan Shipka, Stanley Tucci, Miranda Otto, Kate Trotter, Kyle Breitkopf, John Corbett, and Billy MacLellan.
When the world is under attack from terrifying creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, 16-year old Ally Andrews, who lost her hearing at 13, and her family seek refuge in a remote haven.
Veteran cinematographer John R. Leonetti has yet to impress this critic as a horror director. Annabelle proved James Wan’s Conjurverse to be fallible and Wish Upon exists as this Final Destination Lite mess of disjointed death sequences (no time for Wolves At The Door, regrettably). Could 2019’s The Silence turn a new page, one where “good enough for Leonetti” isn’t considered effusive praise? Not today, dear reader.
Much like Leonetti’s failure to recreate James Wan’s signature haunted menace in Annabelle, Leonetti attempts to borrow from A Quiet Place in terms of silent tension. Please note, in no way do I claim The Silence “rips off” A Quiet Place since scripters Carey and Shane Van Dyke adapt Tim Lebbon’s novel of the same name. What I *am* stating is that Leonetti’s The Silence plays all the same muted beats to less punishing effects. Separations acknowledged, but comparisons too noticeable to ignore.
Kiernan Shipka stars as 16-year-old Ally Andrews, a teenage girl who lost her hearing at 13 in a vehicular accident. Father Hugh (Stanley Tucci) and mother Kelly (Miranda Otto) rightfully worry about their daughter’s condition, yet when primeval bat creatures escape from an underground cave system, Ally’s silent worldview provides the Andrews family a distinct advantage. Make a sound, monsters swarm like aerial piranhas. The Andrews clan – including elder Lynn (Kate Trotter) and youngest Jude (Kyle Breitkopf) – must utilize their knowledge of sign language to stay undetected long enough for armed forces to contain the infestation. An upper hand advantage versus noisier families, but for how long?
There’s momentary ferocity to The Silence when “Vesps” – the nightmarish reptilian bat creatures likened to wasps aka Vespas – tear victims to shreds. Swirling and snarling while swooping down atop fleeing humans. News coverage shows picked-apart bodies left behind in a wake of gnashed chaos, and it’s a gruesome scene – but these instances are few and far between. A Quiet Place’s greatest achievement is keeping red-alert dread strung tight like piano wire even when creatures disappear – The Silence claims no such vice grip, nor sustained payoff.
As The Silence stays glued to Ally’s caravan while they fortify an old woman’s gated property, stealthily avoid “Vesps,” and fend off a cult leader’s congregation (“The Reverend,” played by Billy MacLellan), other survivors situate a hidden stronghold described by Ally’s crush Rob. Through intermittent digital messages, Rob confirms there’s a safe zone where Ally’s family should flee towards – an entire subplot given zero screen time. As with Bird Box, when the film’s most intriguing story device surfaces, the screen cuts to black and credits roll. Leonetti’s direction paints a beastly survival story hinged on coincidence, avoiding “hows” and “whys” like how an entire hideaway could come into existence in favor of, “well, because!”
Does Stanley Tucci bring stoic fatherly calm to Hugh’s chieftain protector? Undoubtedly. Does Kiernan Shipka sell Ally’s loss of hearing and assert independence despite being handed a challenge she damn-well overcomes? Considering how Shipka’s one of Hollywood’s brightest young starlets, correct. Performances are scared, adversarial, and paranoid, just stuck in a creature defense scenario without definitive stakes. While “Vesps” are attracted to the slightest noise, Shipka’s main character may cough or stifle-choke but avoids a bloodthirsty fate. Swarms flock only on lesser characters, plotting beneficially serves the Andrews family, and Leonetti fumbles with weaker Netflix-level effects during computer-enhanced chaos. A very “late-night Netflix watch” feel that’s starting to mean “pushed through production because content is content.”
Alas, Shipka’s characterization of adaptation is a selling point of The Silence. As subterranean sky streakers evolved sight through echolocation, Ally teaches herself to live without audible senses. Deafness is not a disability, but a personality trait. Shipka’s such a strong and confident actress, which plays into Ally’s inner-burning desire to thrive as she did before her grandparents’ demise. Hugh and Kelly try desperately not to treat their daughter differently, but Ally notes how her parents lost more than she did that night despite their daughter’s permanent physical impairment. Leonetti’s empowerment is just so structured to a fault, where altercations lose tension because we *know* Ally will be proven victorious.
Listen: The Silence is *not* a “copycat” or “redo” of A Quiet Place, but releases at an unfortunate time where it’s impossible not to compare John Krasinski’s far-superior “stay quiet or you die” alien invasion blitzkrieg to John R. Leonetti’s “stay quiet or you die” territorial buffet. Both movies feature a deaf daughter and focus on how their focal family survives using ingrained teachings, both movies showcase how water can mask giveaways, both movies rely on parental struggles in the face of unspeakable horror – but one fares noticeably better. Put plainly, timing is everything. The Silence underwhelms and underperforms where animalistic thrills are concerned, sticking with speed and razor-fangs but barely biting hard enough to break the skin.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).