Kiernan Shipka

The Silence

silence

A primeval species that hunts by sound is accidentally unleashed from a cave system. As they spread and take down city after city, one family flees in hopes of reaching an area away from cities. The journey is treacherous and even reaching a remote cabin isn’t enough to keep them safe. The family will not only have to keep each other safe from the creatures, but also from other people.

The Silence is one of a slew of films to recently be released with similar concepts including A Quiet Place and Bird Box. There are definitely similarities between this film and last year’s hit, A Quiet Place, but the novel by Tim Lebbon this film is based on was released in 2015. There is the same basic premise of a family trying to survive in a world where deadly creatures can hunt by sound. The similarities continue as the film focuses on a daughter who is deaf and her relationship with her father. The plots diverge from each other from there, but it is impossible to ignore the similarities.

Brothers Carey and Shane Van Dyke (Chernobyl DiariesThe Sacred) took on adapting Lebbon’s novel for the screen while John R. Leonetti directed (Annabelle, Wish Upon). Despite the multiple similarities between The Silence and other films, there are still some differences that set it apart. One of the biggest differences is that audiences will immediately know the origin of these creatures. Their existence isn’t shrouded in mystery, giving the film almost a more scientific monster movie feel at first (although this part will likely also make horror fans think of films such as The Descent and The Cave). Events quickly escalate after the creatures are released. The audience gets brief introduction to the various characters before they are thrown into the end of the world. Something that makes the daughter in this film different is that she only became deaf three years ago, yet she adapted to her new state of being quickly. There are many instances that force the audience to think what they would do in a similar situation as the family is forced to make numerous difficult decisions. It makes some of the more intense scenes evoke emotions one wouldn’t expect. These are the scenes that will likely stand out the most in the minds of viewers.

The thing that had the potential to make this film stand out the most is the introduction of a bizarre cult. This could have been the most interesting part of the film and it could have added a lot of tension to the film. Unfortunately, it’s never fully developed. The cult isn’t even introduced until the third act of the film. It ends up coming across as an afterthought used simply to make the climax of the film more exciting, but it doesn’t necessarily achieve that.

The Silence is a star-studded film with many familiar faces, a few being familiar for other roles in Netflix original projects. Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) stars as Ally. Because Ally is deaf she is able to notice things other are not, such as warning signs of danger. Shipka for the most part delivers a great performance, but there are a few instances where she appears to react to sound despite her character being deaf. Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Spotlight) plays Ally’s father, Hugh. Overall Tucci’s portrayal of Hugh is interesting to watch as he does what he can to protect his family from harm. The biggest issue I have with his performance is likely a choice made by the filmmakers; for a dad who cares so much about the well being of his daughter, he barely ever uses sign language with her. In fact, many conversations with Ally and Hugh make it easy to forget that Ally is deaf because neither character signs very much with each other. They do make a point of saying Ally can read lips, but it still seems like an odd choice. The only time sign language is really used is when the family is in danger and needs to communicate while being completely silent.

There are many interesting visuals in The Silence. The creatures themselves are brought to life with CGI. Considering they are from a dark, sealed off cave, they have the right look one would expect. These things are relatively small, look almost like a cross between a bat and a small pterodactyl-like creature, have pale skin, are blind, and use sound to find their prey. Some of the most gorgeous images in the film are seeing the creatures fly and swarm from afar. It ends up being both terrifying and beautiful all at once. To add to the terror, there is an unexpected amount of practical effects gore throughout the film. Unfortunate victims of the creatures tend to get torn to shreds, and the filmmakers wisely chose not to hold anything back when showing the aftermath.

The Silence has the potential to bring audiences something new and terrifying, but it sadly fails to surpass other films with similar plots. There are some elements that keep the audience interested such as decent performances, a well-known cast, great effects for the creatures, and a healthy dose of blood and gore. What ultimately holds this film back is numerous underdeveloped aspects of the plot. This is the most obvious with the sparing use of sign language, despite the main character being deaf, and with the cult not even being introduced until the third act. The film is entertaining enough to be worth a watch, but it doesn’t do enough to stick with viewers for long.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)

Nestled in the country is an all girls Catholic boarding school. Two girls end up stranded at their school during break when they are the only two whose parents fail to pick them up. The girls begin to experience strange happenings in this cold, secluded school. Elsewhere, a young woman is doing whatever she can to get to that same boarding school. As the web that connects these three girls becomes unraveled, it soon becomes clear there is something sinister at work.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (formerly known as February) was a huge accomplishment for first time directer Osgood Perkins. This is the kind of horror film that has such an atmospheric presence. You often know bad things are coming – sometimes you even know what those bad things are – yet when the moment finally happens, it is no less shocking or terrifying. Perkins, who also wrote the film, does an excellent job of revealing different plot points in a way that isn’t necessarily chronological, but in an order that helps you to understand more of the story when it is important. There are elements of a traditional devil/possession horror film present, but much of the way it is presented feels fresh. It is clear from the beginning that this film focuses more on the characters involved and creating a feeling of impending doom, rather than traditional scares. In this regard, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a masterpiece.

The three female leads in this film were incredibly strong. Keirnan Shipka (Mad Men) was absolutely haunting as Kat, the youngest of the two girls at the boarding school. As you can see from the trailer, Shipka’s portrayal of Kat moves from a lonely innocence to deeply disturbed during the course of the film. Lucy Boynton (Copperhead) was also amazing as the other girl stranded at the school, Rose. What I loved about Boynton as Rose was that she was a bit of a bad girl, but she was incredibly relatable at the same time. You felt for Rose and cared about her well being. I will be completely honest, generally I am not a huge fan of Emma Roberts (Scream Queens, We’re the Millers). Despite this, I still thought she did a great job as the mysterious Joan. Joan is clearly broken in some way and has been through a lot in her life. Roberts conveys this aspect of Joan quite well. All three actresses stood out and drew me into their individual stories.

This is the kind of film where the evil is almost entirely working behind the scenes. There are only a couple small glimpses where you see the entity that is pulling the strings. I loved the look that the filmmakers went for. The evil in The Blackcoat’s Daughter has a look that is generally familiar in the world of devil worship and possession, but they made some small tweaks to give it a bit more unique look. I also thought it was smart for the evil entity to never really be in full view; it’s shown as more of just a shadow or silhouette. In a film like this where ambience reigns over frightening imagery, keeping the evil in the background was a wise decision.

When I didn’t get a chance to see this film at Cinequest, I was devastated. Luckily it was picked up by the Phoenix Film Festival. The way the stories of the two high school girls and the wandering young woman unravel was done in such a stunning way that it leaves your heart on the floor. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a haunting tale that breaths new life into the idea of possession and the loss of innocence. By the time the credits rolled I felt stunned and awestruck. What was great about the feelings the ending invoked was that many people I spoke with got the same feeling, even though I interpreted the ending a different way than others did. No matter what you think the final scene conveys, it will still effect you in ways you didn’t expect. While I can see horror fans that prefer more scares and gore not enjoying this film as much, people who love films for the way they make you feel will not be disappointed. If this film comes to a theater near you, do not pass it up.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10