The Silent (2015)

*. Vague. Suggestive. A mood piece that’s only seven minutes long with no dialogue, which may have some relation to the title. A title that I can’t explain otherwise.
*. But as with any movie like this you can only attempt partial explanations. As writer-director Toni Tikkanen puts it: “The main goal was not to make a mystery which needs to be solved but just to take the viewer into this nightmarish world which is kind of being like inside the sleep paralysis or night terror episode and experience it through the child’s perspective. There is a story underneath but I don’t think it’s relevant to understand it.”
*. Well, I’d say it’s relevant, if not necessary. As I see it, and I think this appears to be the general consensus, the little girl has just died. This makes the question of “her perspective” a bit challenging. Does she know she’s dead? Is she upset? The Sixth Sense had something to say about this but I don’t know how much of it applies here.
*. And what about the adults? The movie seems structured around three reaction shots. First the mother seems to see the girl enter a room and is happy, then fearful. Which seems the right sort of response to seeing your daughter’s ghost (I’m assuming here that the woman is the girl’s mother). Then another man gives the girl a look of surprise, made all the more surprising by being rendered in a jump cut so we don’t see his head turning toward her. She is as startled as we are and runs away. Which is actually very nice, because it seems clear that it is the man who is startled by her. But does he see her, or only sense her presence?
*. Finally there’s a man, perhaps the girl’s father. He looks at her (us, the camera, this is “her perspective”) and seems to acknowledge her presence. But he may just be thinking of something else entirely. In the progression of these three reaction shots: from the first where it seems clear the mother sees the girl, to the last where it’s not clear the man sees anything at all, we can see the girl starting to fade even from memory. I think most people who have experienced the death of someone close to them know the feeling of still sensing their presence in the accustomed places. But these feelings fade.
*. Tikkanen: “So I wouldn’t worry too much about the ‘answers,’ because the film is more about the tone and emotions and trying to affect the viewer’s subconscious mind.” Fair enough. But I felt my own worrying about answers to be the most intriguing way into the film. The more purely surreal stuff, like the people appearing with drawings over their faces or the nods to Don’t Look Now didn’t mean as much to me. I’m not sure trying to be creepy here helped. And I don’t think the creepiness is all projection. Those faces are creepy, and the music nudges us in the same direction. But is this a horror story? Or a story of loss?

2 thoughts on “The Silent (2015)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    I think Alex Mackendrick nailed this kind of issue when he said that ambiguity isn’t enough. You have to provide firm meanings, and then let the audience choose. You can’t just provide information that doesn’t scan. Love a mystery, but there needs to be a solution….

    1. Alex Good

      I think that’s definitely right when it comes to a feature. Ambiguity can be merely cute and then really frustrating (and dull). It also often makes me think that the writer or director just hasn’t thought things through. But for a short mood piece like this (it’s less than ten minutes) I think it’s OK. A lot of shorts are basically just a single gag, twist, or scare. The tone here is pretty effective and it’s the part that sticks with you. I just sort of blanked out the other stuff that’s left hanging on rewatches.


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