I’ve always thought creature features were some of the most fun genre films. They never seem to take themselves too seriously, but usually have some cultural relevance below the surface...
...I don’t know how true that holds today, but particularly in the ‘40s and ‘50s creature features and films dealing with the monstrous feminine characters were a sign of the times’ fears tied in with the ever-overhanging atomic threats and threats to the traditional nuclear family. Our fears may have changed (have they?), but the existence of fear will never go away, and the way popular media engages with the ebbs and flows of social fear is endlessly fascinating ground to dig.
But just as it is important to engage with fear, it is equally important to understand the importance of escapism through fun media. Modern low budget creature features are especially good here. Sometimes, when the world is bad, you just wanna see a woman fall in love with an animatronic T-Rex. Sometimes we all need a little Velocipastor to show us the way.
Writer/director Scott Jeffrey’s Don’t Speak (aka Silent Place), about a military experiment gone wrong that escapes from the facility and wreaks bloody havoc on an entire town and an unsuspecting family heading straight for it, falls somewhere in the gray area here. At its most basic level, the plot works. It’s basically a lower budget Quiet Place. Once they figure out what’s going on and how to avoid it, it becomes about survival. The thing about people in horror movies, though, is if you tell them they need to be quiet, they’re going to inevitably find the loudest, biggest possible canister of anything to knock over unwittingly, and die because of it. It’s what we all expect, and what lower budget movies like to capitalize on. One of the fundamental tropes upon which the horror genre is built is the folly of humankind.
The additional plot elements, the family dynamics and issues, become clunky and irrelevant pretty quickly. The family crisis of the ill grandfather is the vehicle to get them to the town, but any other family issues are basically sprinkles on a weird little cake. They work only if viewed through the lens of “when a big monster comes to town, all your petty human problems fall away”. They don’t get brought up after about the halfway point when the monster comes centerstage. Which, really, is fine.
The star of this movie is without question the effects surrounding the look of the monster. The kill visuals are not nearly as gory as their bloody aftereffects would have you believe, but the creature itself (AJ Blackwell in a creature suit!) and all of its functions are gross and vivid enough to make up for it. There is not a lot about the creature that makes a lot of sense. It lays eggs in people it attacks, but they seem to be spider eggs—despite the fact the creature itself is not a spider—sometimes it keeps some of its female victims encased in cocoon-like webs but alive for a while for reasons that are never made super clear, and it does not appear to be capable of tearing apart your average RV. But there’s a lot about the movie that clunks around if you look too closely. Except the monster! As a horror fan who stills feels kind of new on the scene, there’s a lot I haven’t gotten the chance to dive into, but I can always recognize good practical effects when I see them, and Don’t Speak has this going for it. Aside from the look of the monster itself, the atrociously disgusting way it appears to operate (a lot of basically rage vomiting?) is also effective. Maybe the one thing that stuck with me even after sitting on it for 24 hours and more. I found I couldn’t remember much of the plot, but I remember the creature and his gross rage vomit because it was viscerally upsetting to watch. Close your mouths.
I never like to tell people to skip a movie entirely because I think there’s an audience for everything. So, if a little mindless creature feature with a gruesome monster ravaging a town is what you’re after, then this is worth your time. If you’re after substance…have you seen A Quiet Place?
Don’t Speak is now on Digital/DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment.
By Katelyn Nelson
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