If the latest Netflix original horror flick looks familiar, that’s because it is.
Barely a year on from John Krasinski’s lauded A Quiet Place and with the meme-tastic, less enjoyable Bird Box fresh in our minds, The Silence is yet another sensory high-concept chiller. Based on Tim Lebbon’s 2015 novel of the same name, would it do anything different? Would it be as laughably insulting as deaf model Nyle DiMarco claimed?
In present-day Pennsylvania, cave researchers fatefully discover and unleash an ancient species known as “Vesps” – Pterosaur-like flying creatures which viciously attack and devour anything and anyone they hear. They cannot hunt through sight. Yep – while Bird Box was extensively flawed and unsatisfactory, at least its take on A Quiet Place‘s sensory terror had a new spin on it. Lebbon’s book clearly materialised long before A Quiet Place, but that doesn’t mean The Silence‘s premise doesn’t feel intrinsically unoriginal from the get-go.
Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Mad Men) is 16-year-old Ally Andrews, who lost her hearing at 13 after a car accident. She lives in upstate New York with parents Hugh (Stanley Tucci) and Kelly (Miranda Otto), along with cancer-suffering grandmother Lynn (Kate Andrews), brother Jude (Kyle Breitkopf) and a worryingly noisy rottweiler.
Television news shows horrific images of the Vesps’ escalating carnage, and the family soon decide that they will be safer away from hazardously-loud urban areas. Joining them on a fated countryside road trip is hothead fake uncle Glenn (John Corbett), who brings his guns. Seems smart. It doesn’t take long for things to career off–track – literally – and the family find themselves at a secluded rural dwelling, with threats soon multiplying beyond just the murderous beasts.
Director John Leonetti’s work as cinematographer includes household horrors like Insidious and The Conjuring, but his fledgling directing portfolio – Annabelle, Wolves at the Door – is much more modest. Leonetti will surely produce far better fare than this by-numbers, unexciting, unscary film that is mostly overwhelmingly bland.
Once the necessity of the titular silence is realised by the family, there are some mildly engaging wordless exchanges, with the film’s second act being its best, as the group learns how to survive.
The accuracy of the sign language is something I know little about, but frankly it felt like a gimmick in purely narrative terms. Shipka learnt it for the role, but she needn’t have bothered. Little of the story rests on Ally’s deafness, which seems a glaring opportunity missed for some unique POV scares.
Jordan Peele’s recent Us was a shining example of how to set up family relationships and introduce characters before a storm comes. “This is how it happened for us,” narrates Ally. “This is our story.”
But unlike Peele, Leonetti doesn’t seem interested in anything more than superficial character-drawing. And of course, the monsters are there from the start. No suspense and no reveal other than what unfolds in the first few minutes of the film. No time spent in a relatably flawed but familiar domestic world, only for all to come crashing down.
One sort of horror becomes another rather clumsily, and despite the best efforts of an adequately creepy Billy MacLellan as a shadowy reverend, The Silence‘s final act is a poorly-executed home invasion fare that, once again, invokes Us as a prime instance of such things done better and more originally.
Nothing here is new, and it’s not even going to spawn any memes. Certainly not worth making noise about.
The Silence is on Netflix now