Though its source novel was published in 2015, there’s no getting around the fact that Netflix’s The Silence bears a few similarities to director John Krasinski’s 2018 hit A Quiet Place. Both stories take place in worlds overrun by creatures that hunt by sound and even feature a deaf daughter as one of the primary characters. That’s also essentially where the comparisons end – for better or worse. Netflix is clearly hoping that The Silence can become another horror smash (like Bird Box was last year), but the final product doesn’t live up to those expectations. The Silence is a fairly bland thriller that struggles to leave much of an impact – despite some fleeting moments of pure tension and terror.
The best thing director John R. Leonetti has worked in his favor is the premise, which admittedly isn’t as original as it might have been a few years ago, but still provides an opportunity to craft some suspenseful set pieces. In this movie, everything from opening a car door to walking on a gravel road represents massive danger, and the filmmakers use that to their advantage for certain sequences that will stand out. Occasionally, Leonetti is guilty of needlessly manipulating the audience by hitting them with some cheap shots, but his approach more or less gets the job done. Unfortunately, there are lapses throughout the film where it’s pretty inconsistent about following its own rules (see: people honking car horns in a traffic jam), lessening the experience overall – and there are serious parts that come across as unintentional comedy.
The Silence’s main narrative follows Hugh Andrews (Stanley Tucci), who attempts to lead his family to a safe refuge. The script, written by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke (yes, he of “mockbuster” fare like Transmorphers) does the bare minimum of establishing the family’s dynamic early on, making many of the characters come off as thin outlines rather than fleshed out individuals. As the leads, Tucci and Kiernan Shipka (who plays Hugh’s teenaged daughter Ally) do the best they can to carry the film on their shoulders, but there frankly isn’t much for them to do other than sneak around while they’re on the move and work their way through clichéd “bonding” scenes (i.e. Hugh teasing Ally about a boy she likes). Some have also, understandably, called out The Silence for its handling of Ally’s hearing loss. The filmmakers try to connect it to a theme of adaption (Ally became deaf at 13 after an accident), but viewers may find Shipka’s performance lacking in authenticity because she is a hearing actress. In the shadow of Millicent Simmonds in A Quiet Place, this could be perceived as a step backward.
Supporting players like Hugh’s wife Kelly (Miranda Otto), young son Jude (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) and mother-in-law Lynn (Kate Trotter) barely register by the end of the film, as their performances mainly amount to reacting to the chaos ensuing around them. The Van Dykes try for some emotionally resonant moments throughout the picture, but a good chunk of them fall flat since so many of the characters are underwritten. Additionally, the inclusion of a mysterious “tongueless cult” feels tacked on for the sake of more drama. The actors who play the members (most notably Billy MacLellan as The Reverend) are suitably creepy, but their arrival in the film comes too late for this element to be fully developed. The cult is responsible for giving the third act some superficial thrills, but don’t contribute much else to the overall story.
The biggest issue with The Silence is the straightforwardness of it all. Leonetti and his team just scratch the surface of what’s capable with this setup, as the film is a little lacking in the subtext, thematic resonance, and fascinating world-building needed to be a memorable watch. In some respects, the movie works on a vicarious level as audiences imagine what they’d do in the same situations. However, that isn’t enough to make it wholly engaging, since viewers won’t always feel completely invested in the characters’ fates. While the stakes are obviously life-or-death, the weak screenplay prevents them from reaching their full impact. If certain subplots had been beefed up, then The Silence may have been a terrifying and emotional experience.
Like several Netflix original films, the streaming platform is the ideal landing spot for The Silence, which likely wouldn’t have made much noise if it had received a traditional theatrical release – especially with several high-profile blockbusters on the horizon. At least on Netflix, it can hopefully appeal to its target demographic and find some kind of audience, although there isn’t too much recommend. Unless one is a fan of the genre or original novel, The Silence can be passed over in lieu of something else on the Netflix queue.
The Silence is now streaming on Netflix. It runs 90 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi horror violence and terror, and for some language.