Directed by John R. Leonetti
From the name and premise alone, one could be mistaken for taking Netflix’ latest purchase as a mock-buster take on of A Quiet Place. In much the same way The Asylum rushed out rip-offs like Snakes on a Train or Atlantic Rim, to take advantage of well-meaning parents buying their kid a DVD, this tale of a family evading monsters triggered by sound seems calculated. Heck, one of the screenwriters even wrote for the aforementioned studio. Yet like the end of the world flick Birdbox before it, The Silence is actually based on a novel that predates A Quiet Place and was also filmed a year before it came out. Still, it’s hard to see it being distributed now as a coincidence. I expect the Netflix algorithm needed another sensory horror. Happily, for them, it also features cast from their recent success Sabrina – double win.
Our main focal point, at least until her narration ends strangely early on, is the boringly perfect Ally (Shipka). She’s a 16-year-old deaf girl, who can hear people when the scene demands it and regulate her volume with the best of them. Also along for the ride are Ally’s boringly dedicated dad Hugh (Tucci) and his boring wife Kelly (Otto). There’s also Ally’s boring grandmother (Trotter), whose main attribute is having cancer and her forgettable brother (Breitkopf). Plus Hugh’s bud Glenn (Corbett), who isn’t even interesting enough to have been having sex with his best friend’s wife for a dramatic reveal. Rather he’s just there for an early, impactless death so the characters’ can mourn him in the naïve hope the audience do. Their relationships are fairly superficial, without the rich emotional arcs or conflicts of A Quiet Place. Still, if the humans don’t do much to grab your attention then maybe the monsters will? Nope. They’re bad CGI, and resemble miniature winged Xenomorphs, and get unleashed by a research team, investigating an old mine. After quickly making food of them, they flock to the noisiest parts of America to feed and take over the world. Conveniently for the film’s budget, this means the survivors have to head to rural areas to stay safe.
To be fair, the opening moments are accomplished, with some engaging scene setting as we learn about the infestation from various news clips and see a baby left to die. Though as director Leonetti has shown with Annabelle and Wish Upon, he’s able to do individual set-pieces well but struggles to build momentum or elevate the sense of danger. Sure, bits like the monsters flying headlong into a wood chipper are gory fun – though they are few and far between. Instead, it’s initial peril is undermined by the film’s reliance on day scenes, highlighting the poor effects, and tropes you’ll have seen done better elsewhere. They are also played out against an invasive soundtrack that punctures their potential impact. Maybe Leonetti was worried the austere script would deter people – or underestimated their ability to follow the story or pay attention to. But having the music do the emotional weightlifting feels cheap and spoils the eerie atmosphere it sometimes momentarily achieves.
But what really stops the film in its tracks is the initially promising road-movie narrative is curbed, following a by-the-numbers development in the story necessitates that the family stay put for a while. Before a by-the-numbers scene of them going to the chemist, that’s far less impressive than a very similar one from The Mist over a decade ago. Luckily there’s a human threat introduced. Eventually. Though unfortunately, it’s an underwhelming cult, committed to cutting out people’s tongues and spreading vagueries with the typical religious buzzwords of repentance and salvation. Still, at least it finally feels like the movie is going somewhere again, picking up with a well-done, and actually quite fresh, take on of the home invasion subgenre. But then it just kind of ends, about 20 minutes after we meet them. Not in an interesting, ambiguous way like The Sopranos, but in a lazy way that implies the team got bored of his material and thought ‘that’ll do’. What’s particularly weird is it’s just after a new quest has been introduced to the story. I haven’t seen a film omit the third act like this since The Devil Inside, and at least then the filmmakers had the courtesy to fill in the blanks on a website.
Perhaps this is an ironic piece of form underlining meaning – as if to say that when the world does end, be it at the hands of monsters or men, it’ll be with a fizzle and not a bang. Maybe we as a species have caused irreparable damage, the extent of which we’re only beginning to realise, before we suffocate ourselves in pursuit of convenience. Perhaps we ought to savour every fleeting moment we have left as our mistreatment of Mother Nature has doomed us to a slow, drawn-out demise. Still, until it does, I’ll carry on writing reviews of films I regret watching if you keep reading them.
The Silence is available on Netflix.