“Do you think whoever killed her was hunting her for sport...?"
...“I wouldn’t call it a sport, but yeah…she was hunted”
So opens the trailer for The Silencing, an upcoming American/Canadian film from director Robin Pront and writer Micah Ranum. This opening may lead us to assume the film will follow the pattern of the Richard Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game”, but no such luck. Great music, a beautiful setting, and an intense leading man all appear, but the film itself suffers the misfortune of too much story and not enough plot. While the idea of humans hunting humans does exist as a sort of through line, it gets buried under a lot of exposition and backstory so that even the fine acting of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) cannot save the film from falling silent.
The Silencing begins with a captivating scene as an eerie and haunting stringed orchestra plays the viewer across the cascading waters of the great north. We follow the path of a body calmly floating down the rushing river, gradually making its way to shore. The combination of death and natural beauty presents an appealing visual, but the strength of the opening quickly dissipates.
The film presents us with two simultaneously unfolding storylines in a small wooded community. The first follows our protagonist, Rayburn Swanson (Coster-Waldau). Hardly the life of the party, he lives a pretty aloof life on his sanctuary. However, under the gruff demeanor hides a significant amount of pain. Swanson owns a wildlife preserve named after his missing daughter. Formerly an avid hunter, he now vehemently protects the land and all living creatures, swearing on his child to educate others about nature and never kill again. However, due to his reclusive lifestyle and long history of alcohol abuse, everyone from poachers to school children simply laugh off any words Swanson has to share. The leading man also has an ex-wife who has moved on with a new man and wants to put the past behind her. After five years, the bereaved mother wants to hold a funeral for her missing daughter, but Rayburn does not want to give up the search and continues putting up “Lost” flyers all over town.
The second storyline follows Sheriff Alice Gustafson, played by Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders), as she discovers the body seen during the opening credits. Unfortunately, she never evolves into any realistic role. In fact, even as she investigates suspects and a weapon for her case following her deputy’s truly bizarre—but nonetheless accepted—suggestion that the woman was “hunted for sport”, the sheriff’s development never extends further than her relationship with her brother, Brooks (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). Swanson at least gets to play the drunk and mournful father, but Gustafson is sketchily drawn. The story hints heavily at an abusive past which left her brother mentally and physically scarred, but Alice seems to have walked away with only a fair share of guilt.
Living in the woods, drinking his dinner, and shunning every person he meets has turned Ray into a grizzled mountain man who takes guarding his property way too seriously. He witnesses a heavily camouflaged person turning off the surveillance cameras on the preserve and the confrontation with the trespasser does not go well. But, self-arrow-removal surgery does not deter Rayburn from returning to the woods to help yet another woman who washes up, injured but alive, on shore.
The parallel running stories of the former hunter and the current sheriff introduce an overabundance of characters which spreads the story thinner and thinner. The sheriff discovers a clue more suited to a Scooby-Doo episode than a cat-and-mouse thriller that leads her down a trail that seems to span the entire village. Every dead end and new twist brings her into contact with a new character we haven’t encountered before, from weapons experts to criminals’ daughters, so that by the film’s halfway point there are just too many elements floating around to effectively connect with.
This excess of story results in seemingly endless misdirection and wild goose chases taking the sheriff all over town and introducing us to just about every resident in the village, ultimately making the big reveal midway through the movie much less impactful than intended. Aside from Rayburn it is difficult to hold feelings about any of the characters, so the expected sympathy or feelings of betrayal just do not occur when Swanson and the sheriff’s stories finally intersect.
Coster-Waldau helps a bit with the film as he crawls into his character and takes the viewer along for a gritty and painful exploration of losing a child. However, the poor pacing and jumbled story prevents The Silencing from being an enjoyable film. All the build up and twists and turns eventually lead to a weak ending which offers a confusing answer to the murders, so even the chase does not lead to a happy reward. The theme of ‘hunting people for sport’ has been done several times before, so I understand the need to make a fresh approach, but The Silencing loses sight of what it wanted to accomplish and just leaves you lost in the woods.
The Silencing becomes available In Theaters, On Demand and On Digital August 14, 2020 from Saban Films.
By Amylou Ahava