Comparisons to A Quiet Place are the least of the problems in this cheesy, poorly paced apocalyptic horror film.
Let’s just clear this up right away: Netflix’s latest in horror The Silence is not a rip-off of A Quiet Place. Like last year’s Bird Box, another film unfairly accused of cashing in on A Quiet Place‘s unexpected success, it’s based on a book written before the earlier movie was released. In fact, the movie was cast and filmed in 2017, a full year earlier than A Quiet Place. One only needs to watch The Silence to see why it was shoved in the back of a storeroom shelf at Netflix HQ until now.
In these uncertain times, it’s not surprising that end of the world movies are popular. We enjoy imagining ourselves as hardy survivors after society collapses, even though the vast majority of us are barely capable of heating a can of soup. It’s such a popular, can’t-miss genre that virtually no thought goes into making the films in it distinguishable from each other in any meaningful way, save for what ushers in the end times. To watch The Silence is to watch a methodical ticking off of boxes: introduction of the heroes, signs that disaster is afoot, disaster, chaos, survival, heroic sacrifice, darkest hour before the dawn, glimmer of hope, the end. It’s not a movie, it’s a laundry list.
The movie opens with an unnecessary voiceover by Ally (Kiernan Shipka, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), a teenager learning to live with being deaf after a car accident. Is it relevant to the plot that she’s deaf? Not really, other than it’s a handy excuse for everyone in her family to already know sign language. Shipka, while doing a capable enough job at signing, doesn’t sound or act much like someone who’s hearing impaired, but all things considered that’s probably a blessing. After conflicting reports of a “plague” or “infestation” causing mass deaths in several states, Ally and her family, including father Hugh (Stanley Tucci) and mother Kelly (Miranda Otto, also doing double Netflix service in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), flee upstate to safety.
What’s causing this “infestation,” you might ask? Well, it’s a swarm of CGI bat creatures, referred to as “vesps” supposedly because of the way they fly in formation, but probably more because it sounds cooler than “bat things.” Accidentally released from underground, they’re hungry for human flesh, and attracted to even just the faintest sound. The family eventually makes their way to a house and move in after the owner is conveniently killed right in front of them. It seems like they may be safe for a little while, until a third act encounter with a doomsday cult that is so dumb is defies description. The best you can say about any of this is that it clocks in at exactly an hour and a half.
Actually, that’s not true, there is one other good thing: about halfway through the movie a bunch of the bat things fly into a woodchipper, which is pretty great. Other than that, it’s tired, indifferent, faux-Walking Dead nonsense, right down to the “humans are the real monsters” twist, featuring a villain who apparently doesn’t realize that cutting out your own tongue doesn’t mean you won’t be able to make any noise. It asks a lot of the audience to accept both that, and the fact that all it may require in the end is a mere change in temperature to defeat the bat creatures.
At no point do the bat creatures ever convincingly mesh with the actors on screen, which explains why none of them look more than vaguely perturbed at what’s happening. Tucci in particular reacts to everything he sees with the mild dismay of someone stuck in rush hour traffic. And while it’s not kind to kick something while it’s down, it must also be pointed out that the pacing in The Silence is baffling. It’s unclear if events take place over a couple days, weeks, or months. Survivors go from zero to forcing a mother and her crying infant out of a subway car to certain doom seemingly within mere hours after disaster strikes. The appearance of the cult suggests that months have passed, and yet the weather hasn’t changed and not so much as a single hair in Tucci’s beard has gotten longer.
The overall shoddiness of the production shows the cynicism that went into the making of The Silence. Disaster/apocalypse pics are not a genre in which quality is a high priority, as long as there’s plenty of people running around screaming. It’s cheesy, but in a lazy, careless way that suggests the filmmakers went into it thinking we already know you’re going to watch this, we don’t have to try that hard.