Netflix achieved total pop-culture dominance with the release of the horror film Bird Box last December. Anyone who puts something into the marketplace and then needs to issue press statements telling consumers to stop emulating their product for dangerous YouTube lulz might seem concerned on the outside, but is doing a victory dance on the inside.
If you are hoping The Silence, which moves the forbidden sensory organ from the eyes to the mouth, will offer a repeat win, prepare to be be disappointed. For starters, there's something about blindfolding oneself to evade monsters that is far more enveloping and primal than just trying not to make noise. Then there's the issue that the eerily similar A Quiet Place came out only a year ago, and is quite terrific. Lastly, there's this: The Silence, based on a novel by Tim Lebbon, adapted by Carey and Shane Van Dyne, and directed by John R. Leonetti (Annabelle, Wish Upon), is a miserable dud. It isn't scary, it's isn't engaging, and it isn't even preposterous to merit a camp-watch. Its only real threat is wasting your time.
It begins when cave explorers (I think they are drilling? Extending cable lines?) poke around in the Appalachians and unleash some nasty beige, winged buggers. Soon thereafter the Mid-Atlantic region is assaulted by swarms of vicious flying piranhas. We know this from TV broadcasts watched by a family in Montclair, New Jersey. (A very nice place with good restaurants and theaters, by the way.)
Kiernan Shipka is Ally, a high schooler, who bookends this story with the most sleepy voice-over since Blade Runner. Ally went deaf from a car accident a few years ago, and has adapted well, learning ASL and relying on her other senses. Moreover, her family (Mom, Dad, Grandma, and younger brother) have also joined in and learned to "live silently." Thus, when social media determines that the demonic beasties are attracted to sound, they feel equipped to handle it.
Ally's Dad, Stanley Tucci, decides everyone should get in the car and go. Even the suburbs are too noisy, so they hit the sticks. Dad's co-worker, "Uncle" Glen (John Corbett), is a bit more macho than he, and luckily has some guns.
Casting Stanley Tucci in the Tom Cruise from War of the Worlds(or Winston Duke from Us, to be more recent) role is a potentially interesting choice. He's not really known as an action-adventure hero, so this is a chance for him to show that side or, by contrast, lean into the fact that he normally plays, shall we say, brainier roles. Instead, Leonetti does nothing with the raw materials Tucci offers. He just reads the lines, plays it straight, and, as such, seems like someone who can't wait 'til he can get the hell off this set and onto a more interesting project.
The problem isn't just the dull acting, it's the complete lack of innovative visual storytelling. For a movie where you aren't supposed to speak, the images should be everything. There is one shot in this whole movie that is gripping in any way, and it comes at minute 80 of a 90-minute movie. I doubt many will let this movie roll that long, and those who do are unlikely to give it their full attention.
There are no memorable set pieces in The Silence. The opening, in which we learn that the end-of-the-world is flying in, is completely passive. We watch a family watch TV. Think instead of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, where the high tension and panic lights up a news studio as social normalcies disintegrate around them. It is never a good sign when you are watching a movie and daydreaming about an older picture that did the same thing, but a thousand times better.
A lot of time is spent in the family car — parked, no less! — as Tucci and family decide what next to do. It's here where Shipka's Ally realizes they can use the power of her deafness to help guide them to safety. This kinda-sorta works (they end up in a cabin in the woods, naturally) and in the last third, where screenwriting professors implore "raise the stakes," they meet some sort of mute-doomsday cult that wants Ally because "she is fertile," or something.
It is baffling on many levels. For starters, the world has only been endangered by "the Vesps" as they are called (cool name, I'll admit) for a few days, yet somehow all sorts of methods of how to live with them have already been adopted. There's rumor of a place called "The Refuge" up north. I dunno, I feel like this movie plays out way too quickly. And yet, by some miracle, barely anything happens. It's a perfect equation for frustration.
A Quiet Place is still streaming for free on Amazon, Hulu and Epix. If you somehow missed it, that's a far better use of your time.
The Silence is now available on Netflix.