Back in December, Netflix created quite a buzz with the release of its original film “Bird Box,” a post-apocalyptic horror film directed by Susanne Bier.
It looks like Netfilx is hoping to strike gold a second time with “The Silence,” starring Kiernan Shipka, Stanley Tucci, Miranda Otto and John Corbett. The movie was launched April 10 on Netflix. Directed by John R. Leonetti, “The Silence” is based on a screenplay by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke that adapts the 2015 horror novel of the same name by horror author Tim Lebbon. This isn’t the first time Lebbon’s work has been adapted for a feature film. The 2015 film “Pay the Ghost” was adapted from the author’s short story which appeared originally in “October Dreams,” an anthology published by Cemetery Dance.
In Leonetti’s adaptation, Hugh Andrews and his family struggle to survive as society descends into chaos after a previously unknown species is accidentally released from an uncharted cave system below the Appalachian Mountains. These pterosaur-like creatures have apparently lived in their subterranean habitat for so long that they have evolved into sightless creatures that hunt their prey using their powerfully sensitive hearing.
The first act follows the opening stages of the catastrophic event as the invasive predatory species quickly expands its range. The disaster is viewed from the perspective of the Andrews family members as they monitor cable news reports and social media posts. For them, the danger is initially not close at hand, but their anxiety steadily intensifies. By the time the U.S. government declares a state of emergency, Hugh is convinced that his family’s best chance of survival is relocating to the countryside.
Hugh leads his family — his wife Kelly, stepmother Lynn, son Jude and daughter Ally — away from the city. They are joined by Hugh’s friend Glenn. Their exodus is fraught with peril as they face attacks by the ravenous winged creatures — called vesps — as well as hostile encounters with other desperate refugees trying to escape the carnage.
The story focuses on Ally, played by Kiernan Shipka, and Hugh, played by Stanley Tucci. Ally is a 16-year-old teenager who lost her hearing a few years early in a car crash. Her heightened senses and her father’s intuition emerge as the two best tools the family possesses as they try to survive.
Despite excellent performances by Shipka, Tucci and other cast members, “The Silence” suffers from too many missing elements. The screenplay by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke condensed the narrative timeline and truncated important plot points leaving the viewer with unanswered questions.
The film is at its best when it examines the interpersonal relationships of the family members as they play out against the backdrop of societal upheaval and personal tragedy. Lebbon’s book most likely does a better job balancing the sociological aspects of the end-of-the-world scenario with the natural horror tropes of a swarm of vicious, predacious monsters. The vesps are scary — but a little more backstory might help dismiss nagging questions such as:
- If these things are that hungry, what did they prey on for untold millennia in that cave?
- If evolution eliminated their need for eyes in a cave, wouldn’t it have done the same for wings?
I bet Lebbon covers all that in the book. I also suspect that he stretches out that first act to show the gradual demise of civilization. Some reviewers have pointed out similarities between “The Silence” and last year’s “A Quiet Place.” Ignore them: The similarities are coincidental and superficial. “The Silence” owes more to John Wyndham’s novel “The Day of the Triffids,” Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “The Birds” and even Thomas Page’s “The Hephaestus Plague” that featured mutant subterranean cockroaches released onto an unsuspecting world following an earthquake.
I have nothing against a good creature feature flick, but true terror can be invoked in depicting the impact of an apocalyptic event on a close-knit family. Though its pterosaurs aren’t as petrifying as one might hope, “The Silence” is still an effectively unsettling excursion worth viewing … preferably late at night in the dark. It was effective in another way, too: It convinced me to buy Lebbon’s book.