The Silence (2019)

MARCH 10, 2023


My wife got me a horror novel subscription box for Christmas, so every month I get two books at random. As expected, it'll be hit or miss what interests you, but this month's had The Silence by Tim Lebbon, and I was surprised because I had seen the movie advertised on Netflix but wrote it off as a Quiet Place ripoff. Seeing that it was based on a novel got me curious and, sure enough, it was published in 2015, three years before Quiet Place was released. So did the writers of that movie (who coincidentally have a new movie out today that seems lifted from Twilight Zone and the finale of Battlestar Galactica) read this book and write an unauthorized adaptation? Or was it just coincidence that they ALSO had an idea for monsters who couldn't find you if you stayed quiet and ALSO focused a lot on the deaf daughter of the family unit?

And to make matters worse for them, they actually even started shooting before Quiet Place came out, but alas was released a year later. I haven't read the book yet (it came with one from Bentley Little, a name I've heard a lot but have never read, so I chose that one first), so I can give some benefit of the doubt and assume it was REALLY GOOD and the movie just whiffed it, regardless of when it came out or what other movies it ended up resembling. Almost from the start it has a sense of phoniness to it, starting with the curious casting of Stanley Tucci as the father of this very bland family. Tucci is an absolute dynamo of an actor, who can steal a movie away from any other performer in history (Christ, he even did it to Meryl Streep!), but sticking him in a role like this is in the "Bruce Willis in Death Wish" hall of shame for misguided casting choices. He seems downright uncomfortable at times going through the "normal dad" motions (having the boys talk with his daughter, agreeing to pick up medicine on the way home from work...), and the closest they get to making it interesting - his bestie is John Corbett, who borders on emasculating him at times - is unexplored.

Anyway, if you've seen Quiet Place (and what horror fan hasn't at this point?) you know the drill: the monsters can hear just about anything, and thus to stay alive and live a very boring life of doing nothing you can't make the slightest sound. Since things are just starting here there's not so much of the curious world building to wonder about (like QP's marked trails - who made those? Was it a trial and error process with a lot of brave volunteers?), but they also aren't as thorough with regards to the "make a sound and you'll die" element. They whisper, they walk around freely, they cock guns, Kiernan Shipka's character even Facetimes with her boyfriend a couple times before the wifi is shut down... all without adding to their danger. I guess we are to assume these creatures aren't AS sensitive (or quick) as their counterparts, but that just means the movie's that much less tense.

I mean, there are a couple of decent sequences, like when they're all trapped in their car and the dog keeps barking, forcing Tucci to... well I couldn't tell if he killed it or not, it SEEMED like he either snapped its neck or choked it, but then when he opens the trunk and lets it out, it seems like its running off on his own. But either way, it's a bummer of a scene, because you know it has to be done but it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking (it reminded me of the original Fallout, where I had to kill poor Dogmeat before the final mission because you couldn't make him wait anywhere and it would be impossible to stealth around the final area with him at my heels). There's also a random vignette of a subway car where the passengers basically send a woman (speficially her crying infant) to her doom, which I thought meant we'd get more of that sort of thing throughout, but nah - it's just padding, but at least GOOD padding. The family basically gets an old lady killed, which is pretty funny, and there's a pretty good self sacrifice scene where a character grabs on to the obligatory evil humans and then screams, so that the monsters will get them all and let Shipka's character flee.

And yes, evil humans. Sigh. They take a long time to show up and even longer to do anything (honestly there's like ten minutes of the movie left by the time they go on the offensive), but they're just as generic as anything you've seen in Walking Dead or whatever. It's a religious cult who seems to have already began preparations to repopulate the world (guess who they want), but apart from cutting their tongues out to ensure silence they're as generic as they come in these things, and by withholding their menace to the film's final few scenes makes them come off not as a genuine story element but yet another thing that exists only to pad the runtime out to the minimum 90 minutes. The book isn't short (360 pages), so perhaps there's just a lot of internal stuff (it's first person from the Shipka character's POV) that obviously can't be translated directly to screen, or they just wanted to cram every single element in while still keeping the runtime (and thus budget) down rather than focus on one story thread and discard the others. Either way, I have little doubt the book will be better.

Weirdly, the damn poster suggests a more interesting idea, showing Tucci and Shipka alone, walking a highway road. That sort of "road movie" feel with just the two of them, presumably after the rest of their family (wife, son, wife's mother) got wiped out early on, might have been a little more engaging. But nah, they're only on the road for the first 15 minutes or so after the news reports start coming in, then they hole up in one house for pretty much the rest of the movie save for a trip out for supplies (where the poster shot came from), which doesn't help it on any level. Sure, send the two top billed stars out for an extended sequence, that'll really improve the movie's tension. Ultimately, the biggest problem with the movie isn't its similarity to another one, it's that it's just not very suspenseful or well done. Even if it came out first, I suspect the general reaction would be "Cool idea, hopefully someone does it better someday." And then John Krasinski, of all people, did just that. Kind of like how Armageddon came after Deep Impact and it was like "Oh yeah, THIS is how you do it!" (and I made that joke before even remembering who produced Quiet Place, heh).

What say you?


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