Lorena Villarreal’s second feature film, Silencio, opens with a short scene and then a title card telling its viewers that the film was “Inspired by True Events.” A lot of movies tell this lie, and in the case of a story that’s trying to be true-to-life it makes sense. It fails in movies like 2013’s mostly forgotten Gangster Squad, where the picture opens with a promise of realism and then ten minutes later one of the principal officers chasing down the gangsters decides it would be more effective to throw knives than shoot in a gunfight. There’s nothing wrong with movies that strive for realism or movies where characters have knife-throwing gimmicks. But there’s a tonal clash when a feature claims to be inspired by true events then proceeds to introduce outlandish elements.
Silencio falls into that trap. It’s telling the story of Ana (Melina Matthews as an adult/ Shayne Coleman as a child), who died as a young girl. Her grandfather Dr. James White (John Noble) remembers her death, but he also remembers resurrecting her. He and his assistant Peter (Rupert Graves) were cleaning up the remains of a U.S. test missile that crashed in the Zone of Silence—Mexico’s equivalent to the Bermuda Triangle. They were experimenting on a strange stone they found at 3:33 am. It fell, and when White caught it, he and Peter were transported to the site of car crash that killed Ana. They manage to save her, but not her sister and parents. This all happens within five minutes of the title card telling the audience that the story was “Inspired by True Events.”
From there, the story flashes forward twenty years. There’s a mysterious unnamed criminal (Hoze Meléndez) who’s intimidating grandpa White, trying to force him to give him the stone. White wants to acquiesce, but his failing memory doesn’t allow him to. Meanwhile, Ana is a practicing therapist, whose psychic patients are telling her that she and her family are in grave danger. Again, all of this within minutes of the title card reading, “Inspired by True Events.”
A movie like The Mothman Prophecies can pull off its claim that it’s based on actual happenings and then wade into the supernatural because it beats around the bush. There’s barely an in-focus shot of the Mothman throughout the entire movie, and not a single character believes in it until they’re forced to. The relationship between the real world and the supernatural is also more clearly defined: a bridge actually collapsed in West Virginia. A real person claims the titular mothman prophecies saved her from dying on that bridge. But in Silencio, those real life events aren’t as clear. There was a U.S. missile that crashed in the Zone of Silence, but the similarities end there. And even without the strange framing, asking viewers to see this as true events, the film has a other issues.
Meléndez does the best with the script he’s given, but he doesn’t have the kind of intimidating presence his character requires. He’s the physical stand-in for the movies mysterious villain, but there’s no fear when he comes on screen. It’s clear he’s got bad intentions holding a gun and glaring, but it’s never clear that he’s got the size, strength, or competence to follow through on the threats he makes. He’s miscast, because the film tries to frame him that way.
And then there’s the twist when the mysterious villain reveals themself. It doesn’t work on a few different levels. On a basic plot level, the cast is too small for it to be much of a surprise. On a character level, it erases the relationships and motivations of nearly everyone in the main cast in a way that makes very little sense. Either they’re friends or they’re not. But friends don’t hide the the lifesaving stone from each other. The word for that is “enemies.”
Perhaps what’s most indicative of what’s wrong with Silencio are the scenes where different characters are trying to dig up the stone. There are multiple scenes and multiples characters digging and none of them ever goes more than a few inches into the dirt. They’re much too shallow to have hidden anything of value, and that’s the case with this film: it’s too shallow to hold anything of value. Silencio hits theaters October 26, 2018.
Wicked Rating 4/10
Director: Lorena Villarreal
Writer: Lorena Villarreal
Stars: John Noble, Rupert Graves, Melina Matthews
Release: October 26, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Barraca Producciones, Fotokem Creative Services
Language: Spanish, English
Length: 98 minutes