(Image courtesy of Tulip Pictures via Ted Geoghegan)
SILENCIO— 3 STARS
The scrolling skimmers of VOD and streaming platform menus know the type of film Silencio appears to be. It has a logline that tingles a head tilt, a squint, and a half-raised eyebrow. See for yourself. IMDB’s micro-description for Silencio reads:
In order to save her son’s life, Ana embarks on a quest to find a powerful stone from the Zone of Silence, located in Mexico. Someone finds out the power the stone possesses and believes it is a power worth killing for.
What did you read out of that? Mild science fiction? Family peril thriller? The bossy trailer only clouds it further. Was it just enough intrigue swimming around preposterousness to press play and give the movie a half-eyed try?
Within in the 98 minutes of Silencio, this little dual-language flick accomplishes what few high concept indie films have been able to achieve with their wildly audacious ideas. It builds a bridge, not a wide and sturdy one, mind you, but a successful structure nonetheless, from the nonsensical to the profound. That is a normally a huge canyon of belief and consideration to cross.
Starting in the dubious realm of “inspired by true events,” the impetus of Silencio is a scientific discovery brought forth from the crash of an American test rocket in northern Mexico on July 11, 1970. Investigations may say one thing, but superstition says another, for this area of Durango desert country shares a line of latitude with the Bermuda Triangle. This is the Mapimí Silent Zone, the dramatically nicknamed and aforementioned “Zone of Silence,” a rumored magnetic vortex where all communications and telemetries go haywire.
Aboard that rocket was a radioactive mineral sample that has now come in contact with unknown other elements, causing it to change. Recovered and inspected by James (Fringe star John Noble) and his young assistant Peter (Nic Jackman), the mysterious rock is found to have time travel powers. It enables James and Peter to inadvertently travel back into James’ past preventing a family tragedy that alters the present and future. The living and breathing result of that ripple is the survival of James’ granddaughter Ana (Melina Matthews of Mama).
In the present day, Ana is a psychiatrist and mother to a young son while caring for the aging and borderline senile James. She finds unexpected help from patient named Daniel (Mexican TV actor Michel Chauvet) who claims to see the dead walking among us. Meanwhile Peter has gone on to become a successful scientist and public figure, played by co-headliner Rupert Graves of stage and screen. Looming all the while in James’ squirreled-away possession is the coveted stone, becoming the target for danger as the logline suggested.
LESSON #1: THE UNIVERSE IS A SELF-CORRECTING PLACE — The fictionally faux science of Silencio portends with dread that a spared life from one certain fate means an unexpected sacrifice will come to balance the proverbial ledger, a play of death bringing life and vice versa Believe that as you may or may not. Ana is the anomaly here and the mystery is what mortal cost will be paid even existence.
It’s not the chase that grabs engagement with Silencio. Many of the hide-and-seek antics to pursue the MacGuffin or avoid its capture are scattered and clumsy. That is until the actions cross typical boundaries into unexpected twists and turns. The draw is when the implications and depths of the somewhat sloppy suspense mesh with the family narrative. The wrought melodrama acts like cornstarch to thicken a gravy.
When more scenes written and directed by Lorena Villarrial (her second feature and first in 14 years after Las Ilorornas) reveal the lingering regrets of John Noble’s sad and raving old man, flimsy purposes become firm. Noble sells every line reading of poetic waxing with a warm warble of devotion in a committed performance. Silencio creates care from the hackneyed. How? The film does it with the tantalizing contemplation to be found in its final two lessons.
LESSON #2: THE WEIGHT OF FAMILIAL SACRIFICE — The depths of what a man or woman will do to protect or save their family is a human instinct that cannot be erased or eroded, even if its slung by light science fiction fair like this film. Family is one’s most cherished universe greater than any larger mystery. The choices we make in the moment, large or small, can define fates. What makes them hard is the possibility of permanence.
LESSON #3: WOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR PAST OR FUTURE IF YOU COULD? — Here’s where allure wins. The undeniably effective rub of Silencio is that classic hypothetical time travel question that erases the plaguing permanence of Lesson #2. If given the choice or power, what would you do? Between the weight of that lesson and the blind courage of Lesson #3, when the screen goes to black on Silencio, you will be racking your brain on these notions. You will also end up valuing the time and challenge of this film.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#736)