Sure, it might be about a family — a family that includes a deaf teenaged girl — fighting to protect itself from a plague of hideous monsters that hunt by sound. But it’s not fair to say that The Silence is literally a knockoff of A Quiet Place. This new Netflix movie is based on a novel by Tim Lebbon that was published before A Quiet Place went into production — though not long before — and both films were shot virtually simultaneously. So this appears to be yet another instance of that phenomenon we’ve seen so often before, of movies with nearly identical premises popping up at almost exactly the same moment (Deep Impact and Armageddon; The Prestige and The Illusionist; White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen; there are many more). These coincidences aren’t at all unexpected: we all swim in the same pop-culture sea and are exposed to the same peaks and troughs of the zeitgeist, so it’s hardly surprising that different creators would hit on the same concept at the same time.
(I noted in my review of A Quiet Place that science fiction onscreen is almost always playing catchup with the literature, but that in this case, I was unaware of any sci-fi author having hit on this concept before. I was wrong!)
That said, The Silence is nowhere near the movie that A Quiet Place is. This one is a pretty standard, uncomplicated monster movie, one that takes few chances, busts absolutely no clichés, and does not challenge our cinematic experience of it the way that the other film did (by tossing away one element — sound — that so often plays an enormous role in onscreen horror storytelling). But I nevertheless found this a mildly entertaining way to pass 90 minutes, certainly for free, already included with my Netflix subscription.
The Silence is, plotwise, a veritable prequel to A Quiet Place in that it’s all about the very beginning of the hushed apocalypse. That’s the usual path of these sorts of movies — one of the ways that Quiet Place distinguished itself was by skipping right over all this — and so Silence feels rather familiar. The accident that unleashes the ancient monsters (shades of Reign of Fire). The first breaking-news reports of the strange deaths and emergency-broadcast warnings from authorities to remain indoors. The escape from collapsing society into the presumed safety of the countryside or the mountains or just, you know, anywhere away from here. The clumsy, dangerous discovery of the monsters’ weaknesses and the way to escape their attention (don’t make a sound). The one-by-one picking off of survivors. The attempts to find refuge.
You know this tale, and director John R. Leonetti (Wish Upon, Annabelle) tells it with a graceless antipanache that seems intent on making it difficult to defend the film against the cheap-knockoff accusation. But it’s the terrific cast, full of people it’s always fun to spend time with, that just about elevates it to the worthwhile. Anchoring the story are Stanley Tucci (A Private War, Show Dogs) as suburban New Jersey dad Hugh Andrews, and Kiernan Shipka (When Marnie Was There, Very Good Girls) as his teen daughter, Ally. (It’s a shame that Leonetti chose to cast a hearing actor, as Shipka is, as a deaf character, as Ally is. Another way that A Quiet Place stood apart was with the authenticity and much-needed honest representation of a deaf actor in its deaf role.) Miranda Otto (Annabelle: Creation, I, Frankenstein) as Andrews wife and mom Kelly and John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The Boy Next Door) as family friend Glenn help sell this as a matter of real, likeable people caught up in a nightmare situation.
There are a few intriguing ideas that crop up over the course of the Andrewses’ odyssey: how sound might be weaponized in this scenario; how the collapse of society might spark a religious frenzy that is far scarier than any monster animals, no matter how voracious. These ideas don’t quite get the exploration they deserve. Still: my praise may be so faint that, well, it’s nearly silent, but there are far worse movies to be found on Netflix.