Well made but essentially dull crime drama: nothing we haven’t seen before.
The Silencing opens with overhead views of beautiful mountain forests, with a river cutting through; and steadily the camera follows someone – presumably dead – being washed down that river, to be found in a little while. Then we meet Rayburn, a jaded ex-hunter who now manages a wildlife sanctuary and tries to mind his own business; and after him, we are introduced to the local sheriff and her current conflicts (both personal and professional). Thus we have three aspects to the story: the civilian, the law enforcement, and the deaths they both have an interest in.
Rayburn (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones) is interested in the dead body because he is concerned it could be his missing daughter. He’s struggling with drink, life, people, everything since she disappeared several years ago, coping with the help of his dog and a new vocation that suits him well. Sheriff Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis, Peaky Blinders, The Mummy) has her own struggles: she is fairly new to this area and not yet got to grips with the local culture, and her younger brother Brooks (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) is in trouble with the police regularly.
Coster-Waldau plays the part of Rayburn like a natural, as though he’s been scowling at poachers and bottles of spirit for years. Wallis is also excellent, giving Gustafson delivery she might have studied for. Indeed all the cast members are sound… decent quality, but unexciting.
Unfortunately, this is a fundamental problem for the whole film. It is billed as a crime thriller, but it did not thrill at all. I watched the story but was not gripped by it. The people were not interesting (even the killer turned out to be just plain odd), and we didn’t find out enough about what happened to the victims to feel anything much for them. There is a little tension around the climax, but nothing had built up to that stage, and so it really didn’t find its mark.
Director Robin Pront made another film a few years ago which was well received (as well as several shorts), so perhaps the problem was Micah Ranum’s writing. As well as the mood of the film, there are certainly problems with the story: for example, there are a number of – potentially interesting – plot strands which don’t go anywhere, such as a traditional weapon, and Brooks’ trauma. Crucially, most of the characters are basically standard models from crime dramas across the western world. Worse than that, the plot itself is painfully similar to Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River; so close, I was looking out for adaptation credit.
There are a couple of good points (beyond the cast I mentioned earlier) though. The Canadian scenery, for example, and the semi-rural small-town sense of place that the sets and people add to it. What enhances both is Manuel Dacosse’s cinematography, especially in the outdoor scenes. The light and sheer breadth of some of the views make the drama pleasant to observe. If only I was more engaged with it, and not just observing.