I greatly enjoyed Tim Lebbon’s apocalyptic horror novel THE SILENCE, and Netflix’s 2019 film adaptation is fairly faithful and well executed. It was an enjoyable movie, despite some flaws.
First, let’s dispense with THE QUIET PLACE. From what I’ve read, the script for that movie was in the works before Lebbon’s novel came out, so neither may be a direct knockoff of the other. Both have strengths and flaws and neither in my view is that much better than the other. What made THE QUIET PLACE more effective was the much stronger use of silence to build tension (I was holding my breath during parts), while THE SILENCE is more effective in showing how the creatures spread and end up dominating the world’s ecosystem. THE QUIET PLACE hit me in the gut, while THE SILENCE hit me in the head. Similarly, I didn’t find it any better or worse than BIRD BOX, also fun but flawed.
In THE SILENCE, deep cave exploration opens up a ecosystem allowing a swarm of batlike creatures to escape. These creatures multiply quickly in balance with their food supply, and suddenly, they’re at the top of a seemingly bottomless food chain. I love that kind of apocalypse, where a new creature is introduced that isn’t evil but simply wants to eat and sees humans as food, displacing humanity in the food chain. Their weakness is they evolved in darkness and cannot see, so they navigate (and hunt) entirely by sound waves. As they rapidly spread, a family (fathered by the great Stanley Tucci) decides to flee to somewhere remote. The story focuses on their journey and subsequent survival where they end up. Spicing things up is the daughter (Kiernan Shipka, the poor man’s Emma Watson) is deaf, and the whole family communicates by sign language, which gives them an advantage in this dangerous new world.
The film handles all this competently, and if you like apocalyptic fare, there’s plenty of fun here, though there isn’t much going on with the characters. The daughter has the potential of transforming from shy young woman with a disability to a leader, but that doesn’t play out. The father has the potential of transforming from a timid, civilized, middle-aged man into a tribal leader who will do anything for his tribe (like the dad in THE QUIET PLACE), but no character arc is apparent. As a result, all the struggle is with the creatures, though we don’t see the characters really suffer for it or be affected by it much internally once they reach a sanctuary. As for external struggle, there isn’t that much until they find sanctuary. The film then runs into the same issue as the otherwise fantastic book–the monsters play themselves out as a threat, and a human threat is introduced, which in turn plays itself out before coming to an abrupt end. The result is a film that is titillating but somewhat emotionally flat.
Overall, I liked THE SILENCE and give is a B as a movie and B+ as an apocalyptic movie.