Moviegoer: The Silencing

Too many twists leave a knot instead of an enjoyable yarn in this thriller 

By Diana Beechener 

Rugged woodsman Rayburn Swanson (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: Game of Thrones) is getting through life one bottle of whiskey at a time. Once a fur trapper, Rayburn has turned into a broken man since the disappearance of his daughter. He turned his 50 acres of land into an animal sanctuary in tribute to his missing child and spends his days obsessively watching cameras he’s rigged in the forest, looking for poachers.  

One day he sees something odd—a girl in a nightgown running past his camera, followed by a pursuer in a ghillie suit. Terrified for the girl and thinking of his own lost daughter Rayburn decides to act, grabbing a gun and heading into the woods. He doesn’t stop to call the cops. He doesn’t trust them.  

Further down the river, sheriff Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis: Peaky Blinders) looks at the body of a woman washed up in the brush. The girl was killed by an atlatl, an ancient hunting tool used chuck modified spears with enough force to bring down a mammoth. Gustafson is confounded by the case at every turn, trying to get information from town members who mistrust the police and believe in keeping to themselves.  

Is the body related to the horrible chase Rayburn witnessed? Is there a serial killer preying on young girls?  

The Silencing is the most frustrating of thriller films: the kind with a dynamite setup that completely flubs the execution. The first act is an engaging whodunit with lots of atmosphere and potential. But as we explore the mystery, things begin to unravel fast. Plots are dropped, characters make outlandish decisions, and the movie becomes a collection of ideas rather than a cogent narrative. 

Director Robin Pront (The Ardennes) botches the ending badly with ineffective storytelling. The film lacks focus, there are several meandering plots that Pront either can’t resolve or forgets about. An entire subplot involving Gustafson’s family is shoehorned into the story so that Pront can force a twist mid-movie. The twist ultimately effects nothing in the way the plot unfolds, which makes the whole ordeal feel pointless. 

Beyond twists intended to shock, Pront keeps raising ideas and dropping them before making them meaningful. The film makes a big deal of describing an atlatl, but the killer’s use of the weapon ultimately means nothing. A crucial decision that should have changed the movie fundamentally is excused and ultimately ignored. It’s as if Pront’s odd choices and twists were to distract the audience from the hackneyed plot he’s working with.  

The quality of the storytelling is a shame, because the film itself is beautiful. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse (Three Days and a Life) crafts some striking images, playing with color, making frames painterly and drawing the eye. The film also leans heavily on themes of camouflage with clever lighting and framing to help conceal and reveal characters throughout the film. It’s jarring and thrilling to see a character appear seemingly before your eyes. 

The cast does its best but ultimately is given little to do. Coster-Waldau makes the most out of his alcoholic woodsman character. He’s got the gruff looks and brusque delivery to sell the character even if the script only barely sketches out his story. His Rayburn is a broken man who runs on guilt and rage. He’s got an easier job than Wallis, who must make due with a script that seems designed to destroy her character. Her sheriff is at times stupid, sensitive, tough, but mostly baffling. Much is made of her being a woman struggling to be taken seriously in a man’s world, but it’s hard to side with her when she proves herself utterly incompetent at every turn.  

Though a disappointment from a story perspective, The Silencing is a well-shot potboiler. If you’re interested in a mystery with lots of twists and character development, this will likely be a letdown. Whether good cinematography and terrible writing is a worthy expenditure of $6 will have to be your decision, but I’ll point out that Silence of the Lambs is available for free to Prime customers.  

Poor Thriller * R * 93 mins.