Family items can be clichéd but also useful. overemphasizing a particular trope and it becomes tiring and tedious. use a trope with care, especially when it is connected to other tropes within a larger framework, and the various pieces can add up to form a satisfying whole. the key here is judicious treatment, ensuring that the various tropes are not there for their own sake, but rather support the whole.
the silencing, a mystery horror thriller directed by robin pront and written by micah ranum, incorporates tropes such as tough men, emotional women, monstrous figures, alcoholism, and sinister music. list them like that and the film reads like familiar territory that the seasoned or even prejudiced viewer might not be tempted by. but soon weaves a story of questions and puzzles with jump scares and tense scenes to deliver a film that, while not terribly surprising, is effective.
One of the most compelling elements of The Silencing is its setting, the remote town of Echo Falls. Set in northern Minnesota (though filmed in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada), opening shots of rolling hills, sprawling forests, and rushing rivers quickly establish a sense of place. cinematographer manuel dacosse captures sweeping shots of this desert, initially evoking a sense of romance and beauty. However, the opening bars of Brooke and Will Blair’s score quickly strike an ominous note. as the camera approaches the river, the viewer perceives a body being swept away by the current, further emphasizing a journey into dangerous territory. ironically, the next scene informs us that we are in a wildlife sanctuary, the keeper of which, rayburn swanson (nikolaj coster-waldau, “oblivion”) is the first familiar we meet, a stocky, no-nonsense man of the world that forcibly persuades two would-be hunters to leave the sanctuary.
rayburn is a stocky, gray-haired outdoorsman. Coster-Waldau’s imposing physique and granite features dominate the screen, and Rayburn is a man of few words but plenty of passionate growls. Reminiscent of Hugh Jackman’s “Logan” as well as Jeremy Renner’s Cory Lambert in “Wind River,” Rayburn is a former hunter and a skilled tracker, an expert lumberjack, and highly capable. Complete with a loyal hound (named Thor, no less), he grins as he fights his way through wounds, heals his own wounds, and self-medicates with whiskey. And (of course) his family is broken, the shrine is named after his daughter, Grace, who disappeared five years earlier. Estranged from his ex-wife Debbie (Melanie Scrofano, “Ready Or Not”), who is now involved with ex-friend Blackhawk (Zahn McClarnon, “Doctor Sleep”), Rayburn is stuck in the denial stage of grieving, printing persona fliers. of grace that lays around the city. he spends his days surveying the sanctuary through a network of surveillance cameras, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of grace. though she doesn’t appear, he certainly sees other things that are important.
Rayburn’s arc is half of the movie. The other half concerns Alice Gustavson (Annabelle Wallis, “Tag”), Echo Falls County Sheriff. A local who left after losing her parents, then returned and was recently elected sheriff, Alice juggles the demands of her profession with caring for her younger brother Brookes (hero Fiennes Tiffin, “Harry Potter and the Prince half Blood”). Brookes is deeply troubled for reasons that become apparent as the film progresses, and the tension between Alice’s professional and personal responsibilities is evident. At key points in the film, Alice comes across as overly emotional, which is an unfortunate gender stereotype. That said, Alice also fills the role of the state typically assigned to male characters, so her portrayal of law and order contrasts with Rayburn’s rugged masculinity and her preference for natural justice. in fact, the two characters illustrate a key tension of the town as a whole, crossing the borders between civilization and nature.
another boundary in the film relates to its social environment which emphasizes privilege and deprivation. Northern Minnesota includes several Native American reservations, and the reservation is prominent in the silence. Sheriff Gustavson and Officer Blackhawk clash over jurisdiction, and the film pays some (fleeting) attention to the condition of contemporary Native Americans. One of the most disadvantaged ethnic groups in the United States, Native Americans suffer a disproportionately high level of unemployment, poverty, and addiction. The muting makes a passing reference to this, with a disused sawmill on the reservation taken over by people with seemingly no better place to go. the film does not delve into these social issues or use them as part of its thematic framework, unlike the aforementioned “wind river” or “drunktown’s fine”, which is unfortunate because the social and anthropological details can make for compelling background in crime dramas. here, the presence of Native Americans as a disadvantaged social group seems little more than symbolic, poorly integrated into the film’s overall setting of horror and suspense.
However, within this medium, muting offers a very effective tone and atmosphere. the appearance of a figure in mask and camouflage gear wielding spears is startling and alarming, especially in the woods. narrow tree trunks shrouded in mist create an eerie image, to quote william shakespeare’s “henry v” like “so many horrible ghosts”. rayburn and the camouflaged figure, as well as others, move through this forest in a changing dynamic of predator and prey. the camouflaged figure is a strange combination of human and inhuman elements, modern and traditional, which makes it strange and therefore puzzling. some tense scenes are also disconcerting. Whether shooting wide outdoors or cramped interiors, Pront, Dacosse, and editor Alain Dessauvage make great use of shadows and light. when the violence occurs, it is graphic and visceral, captured in wide shots with long shots rather than quick cuts. this aesthetic deglamorizes the violence, making it unpleasant and repellent, and in the early stages of the film eerily pointless. in its final act, the film’s menace begins to unravel as explanations are offered and references (especially to “psycho,” such as “the host”) grow more severe. As is often the case with psychological horror, what you don’t know is more disturbing.
Like denis villenueve’s “prisoners,” which offers a similarly harsh visual and emotional tone, the mute is ominous and unsettling for much of its runtime, but falls apart a little later. little in his final act. however, it is less jarring due to its continued emphasis on character dynamics rather than the larger ambitions of the “prisoners”. As a result, The Silencing is both less impressive and less disappointing than Villeneuve’s star-studded thriller. it may offer little we haven’t seen before, but the mix of pront’s familiar elements still makes for a truly engrossing trip into the woods.