The body of a teenage girl is found washed up by the banks of a river. Police arrive, look around for a bit and deduce that she wasn’t just killed. She had been hunted. It’s unclear how they leap to this conclusion given the minimal investigation, but it’s still just the opening minutes of The Silencing so you let it slide because all will surely be explained by the final reel.
Directed by Robin Pront (The Ardennes) The Silencing is a frustratingly messy movie filled with twists and turns that lead nowhere and ultimately build towards nothing. The story is so discombobulated that when the moment comes and the killer is revealed, instead of the audience going ‘AH HA!’, they are much more likely to think, Who is that guy?
The Silencing stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) as Rayburn, a former trapper/hunter who has given up his life of killing animals for their fur to protect them in his 50-square-mile sanctuary. He’s also a drunk, the kind who keeps a fifth of whiskey with him at all times to keep him going between drinks. Anabelle Wallis (Annabelle: Creation) co-sars as Gustafson, the sheriff of the nearby town who is heading up the investigation to find the killer of the teenage girl, or is it girls, while trying to keep her disturbed younger brother Brooks (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) out of trouble.
The film spends an inordinate amount of time switching back and forth between the two lead characters, a style choice by the director that builds more confusion than tension especially since there are several scenes in the movie that seem tailor-made for the two stars to partner up. Through the elaborate monitoring system at his sanctuary, for example, Rayburn sees a hunter in a ghillie suit (a camouflage outfit that makes the wearer look like a pile of raked leaves) chasing a young girl through the woods. Does he call the cops? No. He grabs a gun and hauls his drunken butt out into the woods to chase the guy. It does not end well for Washburn, but even when he hauls his injured drunk butt back to his cabin he doesn’t call the cops.
Meanwhile, Gustafson plods along on her investigation, hampered not only by her babysitting duties but by the fact that her lead suspects are Native Americans living on tribal land beyond her jurisdiction. It seems an important plot point but it is never fully realized or explained to any satisfaction by the end.
Suddenly, just when you’re about to push the fast-forward button to get to the end, there is a scene in The Silencing that just erupts all over the screen. You’ll know it when it happens: it’s the one when Gustafson, Rayburn, and the guy in the Ghillie suit are all together in Rayburn’s cabin in a tense standoff that…let’s say it ends in a shocking moment that takes all the meandering ways of the film up to that point and blows them out of the water. It’s so thrilling and unexpected that you toss the remote aside because you can’t wait to see what happens
But that’s it. That moment is the high watermark for tension in The Silencing. The rest is all downhill. Yes, the mystery eventually gets solved, but in the most unsatisfactory way with a character who’s barely been in the movie suddenly showing up as the mastermind behind it all. And it ends with a lot of unanswered questions, and unpaid for crimes, that only further undermine that solution that Pront puts on the movie. By the time it’s over, The Silence ends up being less of a whodunnit than a who cares.
Available In Theaters, On Demand and On Digital August 14, 2020
- John Black, The Silencing