Fans of A Quiet Place and Birdbox may feel a sense of déjà vu while watching Netflix’s newest horror offering, The Silence. The film follows 16 year-old Allie (Kiernan Shipka), who lost her hearing in an accident three years ago, as she and her family struggle to adapt to a new world filled with ancient, bat-like creatures who hunt by sound. Allie and her family flee their New Jersey home in the hopes of finding sanctuary somewhere farther north. They do, but then that sanctuary is invaded by a cult who wants to take Allie and exploit her for her “other, heightened senses” — at least, according to the official plot synopsis.
In reality, the cult plot in The Silence is as poorly handled as nearly every other part of the film. With the exception of a great cast, headed by Shipka, Stanley Tucci and Miranda Otto, the film lacks any cohesion and feels almost unwatchable. The effects aren’t great, which would be forgivable if the plot was better; however, there are simultaneously too many plots and not enough. Actually, that’s not quite true. There is a distinct A plot with two or three subplots, but none of them have satisfactory conclusions and their connections to each other are tenuous at best.
Furthermore, there are plot holes that are never resolved. CNN continues its broadcasts from “a bunker somewhere” and people are still able to access and use social media, with the online news cycle seemingly never stopping even as these creatures wipe out whole pockets of humanity. The possibility of technology and media continuing in this way in a post-apocalyptic world doesn’t sit right, not just because of how other post-apocalyptic media handles these topics, but because of basic logic.
At one point, Allie loses cell service when trying to contact the boy she likes, then somehow gets it back after she and her family flee even further north. How does that work? Obviously, much of the technology we use is automated, but it doesn’t make sense that all of these things would just continue on, given the circumstances. Following the thin threads of Allie’s single-minded focus on the news is also hard to do, especially as the movie moves deeper and deeper into this post-apocalyptic world. The inclusion of technology and electronics in The Silence feels almost too easy and therefore disingenuous to the otherwise dire stakes proposed by the plot.
The thing is, it is frightening to imagine a world where even the smallest sound can get you killed by ancient beings who can’t see you, although you can see them (and the way they kill). These creatures are present in nearly every frame, flying around above the characters or swarming sources of sound. Literally living under a threat you can see is the kind of thing that can build a lot of tension, as we’ve seen in previous sense-deprivation horror films. Unfortunately, The Silence doesn’t do enough world-building to drive that tension home and craft a truly good movie, which is deeply disappointing.
It’s also hard to feel for the characters, even when incredible tragedy befalls them. They release their family dog into the woods when his barking makes them all targets for the vesps, which is what the pterodactyl-like bats are called. One character gets seriously injured and nearly dies when they’re attacked by one of the vesps; another self-sacrifices to prevent the cult from taking Allie from her family. There is also a scene where a young girl who has been indoctrinated into the cult is sent to Allie’s family as bait, with ringing cell phones strapped around her middle. The invocation of suicide bombers doesn’t land well, nor does the forced empathy of the script. It’s clear that this cast did what they could to make the film shine, but unfortunately, their efforts can’t make up for all of the film’s weaknesses.
Essentially, The Silence has potential, but unless you’re a dedicated fan of someone in the cast and can’t bring yourself to skip any of their projects, no matter how bad, don’t waste your time on this film.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bitch Media, The Mary Sue, Bustle, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is the managing editor at The Beat, as well as the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Montana with her partner and cats.