By Rod Lott.

A crime thriller that goes through the genre’s motions without providing much of a snap of tension.”

I have a theory: The Silencing was engineered in the scripting stage in hopes of landing Viggo Mortensen. Not only does its actual star, the cost-effective Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, look similar to his fellow Danish countryman, but elements of its story seem culled from some of the three-time Oscar nominee’s roles this millennium.

Consider that Coster-Waldau’s character of Rayburn is:

  • a bit of a recluse, living isolated in the wild (Captain Fantastic);
  • a friendly man who can be pushed to do some very unfriendly things (A History of Violence);
  • hostile toward someone who should be an ally (A Dangerous Method);
  • defending the honor of a dead teenage girl (Eastern Promises); and
  • freezing his ass off (The Road).

Now in select theaters and on demand, The Silencing comes set in Echo Falls, Minnesota, a fictional sawmill town the looks every bit as miserable and frosty as it sounds. With only hooch and a pooch for companionship, the unassuming Rayburn lives very quietly in a cabin on the wildlife sanctuary he runs. Five years have passed since his only child disappeared – murdered, presumably – taking his marriage and sobriety in the process.

When the body of a young woman washes ashore, he hopes for the closure the last half-decade has denied him. The corpse is not his daughter, but signs point to the work of a serial killer. And if that’s true, perhaps she was a victim, too. It’s enough for the new town sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) to investigate, although not without considerable bias, considering her no-good kid brother (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, nephew of Ralph and Joseph) seems intent on extending his own rap sheet.  

Like the best crime thrillers, place is practically a character, and director Robin Pront (following up his 2015 debut, The Ardennes, then Belgium’s official submission for the Academy Awards) excels at building a believably morose town, filled as it is with economic depression, lowlife crooks, and an uneducated populace. The funereal string-based score by Brooke and Will Blair (Blue Ruin) sure helps.

But The Silencing is not like best crime thrillers in other critical aspects. Perfectly serviceable but inevitably forgettable, it goes through the genre’s motions without providing much of a snap of tension. Coster-Waldau is fine in a part ready-made to get audiences on his side – self-loathing flaws, scruffy face and all – whereas Wallis (Tag) is woefully miscast. She’s a more than capable actress, but as the long arm of the law for a Minnesotan map blip? As they say in the North Star State, nope.  

With star power and budgetary polish, Pront’s sophomore effort inches him closer to Hollywood than Antwerp; its reliance on atmosphere and locale brings to mind Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, Jim Mickle’s Cold in July, Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance, the first season of AMC’s The Killing and so on – all of which operate on a higher plane of skill and ROI.  

Rod Lott runs the genre film website FlickAttack.com from Oklahoma City. A former professional journalist whose film criticism and features were named his state’s best for three years, he has written for Psychotronic Video, Something Weird Video, and numerous books.  

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