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On Netflix: THE SILENCE (2019)

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THE SILENCE
(Germany/US - 2019)

Directed by John R. Leonetti. Written by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke. Cast: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto, John Corbett, Kate Trotter, Kyle Breitkopf, Dempsey Bryk, Billy MacLellan, Chris Whitby, Barbara Gordon, Sarah Abbott, Kate Corbett. (Unrated, 90 mins)

THE SILENCE is based on a 2015 novel by British horror/fantasy author Tim Lebbon, but that still won't stop the comparisons to last year's hit A QUIET PLACE. Filmed in 2017 and originally set to be released by the financially-strapped Golden Road before they sold it to Netflix, THE SILENCE was in production around the same time as A QUIET PLACE, and it's also interesting to note that SILENCE star Stanley Tucci is married to the older sister of A QUIET PLACE star Emily Blunt, so they had to know they had a family competition going with oddly similar horror movies about creatures who hunt by sound, with the action centering on a family that learns to exist in silence and can communicate by sign language since one of the children is deaf. Lebbon's novel is adapted by the writing team of Carey and Shane Van Dyke, the grandsons of Dick Van Dyke and best known for scripting various Asylum "mockbusters" like TRANSMORPHERS, STREET RACER, and THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED. The director is certified hack John R. Leonetti, a veteran cinematographer whose filmmaking credits include such classics as MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2, ANNABELLE, and WISH UPON.






With that pedigree, THE SILENCE lives down to its expectations despite an intriguing set-up. Researchers are exploring an uncharted cave system 1000 feet below the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania when they're attacked by a horde of prehistoric, bat-like creatures that have been living and evolving in those sealed-off caverns for millions of years. The creatures are named "Vesps" by the scientific community. They're blind and hunt by sound, which means the hustling and bustling major cities are the first to be attacked and wiped out, followed quickly by the suburban and rural communities. The Andrews family--dad Hugh (Tucci), mom Kelly (Miranda Otto), teenage daughter Ally (Kiernan Shipka), younger son Jude (Kyle Breitkopf), Kelly's mother Lynn (Kate Trotter), and the family dog, along with Hugh's best friend Glenn (John Corbett), decide to get out of suburban New Jersey and head to the country where it's quiet. They're in two vehicles--Glenn and Jude in one and everyone else in the other--and they have an inherent advantage when it comes to keeping quiet: three years earlier, Ally lost her hearing in a car accident that killed Hugh's parents, prompting the whole family and Glenn to learn sign language. It isn't long before survivalist-type Glenn's impromptu shortcut leads to disaster when his SUV rolls off the road avoiding some deer. Jude already switched vehicles during a stop, and Hugh is unable to get a pinned and injured Glenn out of the wreckage. With the Vesps approaching, Glenn decides to fire his gun to attract them, sacrificing himself while the family takes refuge in their minivan. Any chance the dog will start barking uncontrollably?


Trapped in the minivan might've been a good way to sustain the tension, but it isn't long before they take their chances and hoof it in total silence, happening on a farmhouse whose owner instantly runs outside, firing her gun and screaming "Get off my property!" which of course, instantly gets her attacked and devoured by a flock of Vesps. That's the kind of insultingly lazy writing that just shows utter contempt for the audience, with the filmmakers taking the easiest possible route to get the family in the safe confines of an isolated rural home. That's followed by an immediate burst of genius as Hugh turns on a loud wood chipper, causing a ton of blind Vesps to fly into it and get instantly shredded. Why doesn't he just leave the wood chipper running and kill them all? Because there'd be no movie and more importantly, no inane third act home invasion curve ball, where a creepy reverend (Billy MacLellan) and his flock show up at the house, all of them with their tongues cut out to ensure silence and the reverend demanding Hugh hand over Ally, holding a handwritten sign that says "The girl is fertile." I can't speak for Lebbon's novel, but the Vesps have been out of their cave for seriously like, two days by the film's timeline. 48 hours into a national emergency and this clearance bin Immortan Joe and his crazed cult have already severed their own tongues and are out there stalking families and trying to abduct fertile underage girls? The milk in their fridge hasn't even expired yet.


There are a couple of intriguing elements that aren't really explored, like just how quickly everyone turns on one another when the shit hits the fan (watch a bunch of New Yorkers trapped in the subway kick a woman and her crying baby off the train to get eaten by the Vesps), and the Vesps using the carcasses of their victims--human and animal--as incubators for their eggs. More of that ickiness would've given this some appropriately apocalyptic and generally unsettling cred. Or just give me a whole movie of Stanley Tucci shredding blind prehistoric dinosaur bats in a wood chipper and I--and no doubt The Tucci Gang--would be totally onboard with it. But this is seriously just cheap-looking, SyFy-level junk. The Tooch is one of our most reliable character actors (and an Oscar nominee for THE LOVELY BONES), and he's an accomplished screenwriter as well (BIG NIGHT). Surely, he read the script for THE SILENCE and could see that it was hot garbage. Did he need to make a down payment on a new house? A kid starting college the next fall?  He classes it up as best he can, and THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER's Shipka (currently starring with Otto on Netflix's CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA) turns in an appealing and very credible performance, even taking the time to learn ASL in preparation, which is really going above and beyond for something this dumb.



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