Film Review: ‘The Silence’

Sebastian Blomberg stars in the German murder drama "The Silence." Credit: Music Box Films
Sebastian Blomberg stars in the German murder drama “The Silence.”
Credit: Music Box Films

‘The Silence’
Director: Baran bo Odar
Stars: Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Milke Mohring
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

Today the boundaries that separate film and TV aren’t so clear. Aesthetically, TV looks increasingly like film, while film is no longer content with single, brief narratives; now everything wreaks sequels and prequels and over-explanatory origin stories. One can’t even tell “The Hobbit” — a nice little 320 page book — without three three-hour epics. And so the German murder drama “The Silence” plays like a TV show, an ambitious study of guilt and remorse in the wake of tragedy, but directed with the zeal of someone trying to score a comfy Hollywood gig.

A young girl out for a bike ride is hounded by two creepy men with shaggy hair (Ulrich Thomsen and Wotan Milke Mohring). She’s raped, murdered and disposed of, her body never found. Twenty three years later a copycat murder takes place: another girl on a bike disappears from the same field. Is someone trying to send a message? If so, who? In the spirit of “Twin Peaks,” “The Silence” dangles the carrot of a mystery that will be belatedly solved, hoping a tantalizing end point will get viewers to power through less sexy character-driven fare.

“Twin Peaks,” of course, boasted a hotbed of crazies who handily distracted viewers from the protracted mystery. “The Silence,” meanwhile, is populated by sadsacks brooding about as much as, well, the people in Ingmar Bergman’s 1963 film “The Silence.” The more recent incident not only yields a hot pursuit, but also awakens feelings, including in the original victim’s mother (Katrin Sass) and the detective (Burghart Klaussner) who failed to crack the case. The original murderers even get in on the action: Mohring, now a respectable father and family man who moved far off, returns to mostly torture himself over his past deed. Thomsen, meanwhile, asserts that, hey, they only murdered once.

Even in quiet scenes, director Baran bo Odar ratchets up the tension: he shoots mundane acts (kids playing, etc.) in sinister slo-mo while cranking up the moody, haunting music, highlighting the menace lurking underneath the innocent surface. His favorite shot is an overhead one that peers down, disengaged from the action. It’s a lot of lathering up to atone for a plot that too often feels stuck in a talky rut, spinning its wheels before the final gotcha. When the solution comes it actually hits hard, not because it’s shocking but because it goes to a legitimately dark and underexplored place. It takes awhile to get there — but then, at least it’s not a TV show.


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