Andy is a film scholar and obtained his Masters in Research of Film (Mres) at Edge Hill University by analyzing the music biopic genre.
It is refreshing to see that in contemporary cinema we are experiencing a wave of films that can be described as sensory horror. Films such as A Quiet Place (John Krasinski: 2018), Bird Box (Susanne Bier: 2018), and most recently The Silence (John R. Leonetti: 2019) all provide a vicarious cinematic experience through a form of isolated sensory deprivation. Now if it wasn’t clear from the title of this review, the experience from the latter of those three examples was not necessarily a triumph. The Silence was indeed a disturbing watch but this was mainly due to the film’s clear plagiarism of A Quiet Place.
In comparison to A Quiet Place, deafness is also the narrative focus of The Silence, however, there is a clear difference in the execution of the two films. In A Quiet Place, all the narrative details revolve around the deaf protagonist Regan Abbott who was fantastically and crucially played by a deaf actor in the very talented Millicent Simmonds. Due to Regan’s disability, her whole family is versed in ASL (American Sign Language) and subsequently obtain an advantage in a horrific world that requires them to be completely silent if they wish to survive. Criminally, the narrative of The Silence involves the same requirement of survival but with a controversial difference in the details. There are two deaf protagonists in Ally (Kiernan Shipka) and Jude Andrews (Kyle Breitkopf) but they are played by hearing actors.
This casting choice is not only unethical but it also dilutes the vicarious nature of the film through severe inconsistencies. ASL does not have a dominant presence within the dialogue as it does in A Quiet Place, and when it is used it is crucially accompanied by speech as both deaf characters can lip read. This is a form of dumbing down the horror as the use of spoken dialogue allows spectators who are not versed in ASL to not have to rely on subtitles. More crucially, however, these inconsistencies within dialogue truly affect the tension and pacing of the narrative. When a character abandons ASL and speaks aloud, the horrific world which requires them to be silent seems significantly less dangerous. Compare this to A Quiet Place where lip sealed ASL is the only mode of communication and any amount of noise has critical effects, and as a spectator you vicariously keep quiet for the sake of the protagonists.
Furthermore, in terms of providing a vicarious experience of being deaf, the film disappointingly phones it in. In typical tinnitus Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg: 1998) fashion, there are point-of-view shots from both Ally and Jude that are accompanied with a faint ringing sound to provide a simple simulation of deafness. Now although this is also presented n A Quiet Place, there are also several other scenes that place Regan in dangerous situations where the ability to hear would benefit her significantly. It is truly disappointing to say that if it wasn’t for these white noise scenes, along with some on-the-nose- dialogue and narrative exposition, it would be relatively unclear that the protagonists of The Silence were deaf at all.
The concept behind the film’s monster was quite an interesting one. A beastly creature that has been confounded to undiscovered depths of the Earth that is unintentionally released to wreak havoc top side. However, once again, the execution is flawed. This is mainly due to some shoddy C.G.I that truly dampens the threat of the monster. In fact, the film is at its scariest when it doesn’t show the monster in attack, especially when the victim is something innocent such as a child or family dog. The “Vesps” as they are supposedly called, who are actually never named in the film even with the tons of exposition dedicated to them, appear to be an easily traversable threat. The film sets up this monster to be the mythological reckoning of the human race. This can be seen in the opening P.O.V “found footage” of the miners who discover the creatures and the opening credit sequence which works somewhat as a Ludovico effect with its disturbing images. However, the reality is that they are nothing more than pests and this is clear as the characters do not feel so threatened to speak aloud.
Phoned in Message
It is difficult to find a clear message behind The Silence. It surely cannot be an exploitation of deaf awareness as that message is severely muddied in its casting and the straight fact that the film is essentially an unintentional mock-buster of A Quiet Place. On top of this themes of cult religious fanaticism and a reliance of technology are bizarrely thrown into the narrative. As well as having to deal with the Vesps, the Andrews family also have to deal with another antagonist in the form of a speechless religious cult. Father Hugh (Stanley Tucci) refuses the advances of this cult who are forcing the family to join their cause. This refusal results in the cult using IPhones as weapons, most bizarrely in the form of a ticking time bomb suicide vest attached to an innocent looking child who infiltrates the Andrews’ home.
If the film was consistent in its content, there could have been a blasé message here. Something along the lines of the current reliance of technology is detrimental to society etc. However this is not the case as Ally is often using an IPad throughout the narrative to contact her boyfriend Rob (Dempsey Bryk) in the hope that they will meet within this apocalyptic world. The fact that she manages to get WI-FI is arguably the only impressive aspect of this film.
© 2019 Andy Sciambarella