I was excited to hear that Mexican director Lorena Villarreal would be directing her first feature in 14 years since 2004’s Las Lloronas. Mainly because I find the advent of so many genre films directed by women right after Jason Blum made the misguided statement that women “weren’t interested” in directing horror films. Hahahahahaha. Okay, sure, my friend. He apologized, thank God, but honestly, what a ridiculous statement.
I also love stories about unexplained possibly supernatural phenomena that actually occur in our own physical reality. The backdrop for Silencio is the actual place known as “The Zone of Silence”, a desert patch near the Bolson de Mapimi in Durango Mexico. In July of 1970, a test missile that launched from a military base near Green River, Utah went off course from its destination in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It landed in The Zone of Silence and afterward, U.S. Scientists came to the area to dispose of the radioactive cobalt that the missile was carrying.
This resulted in many urban legends about the place, including that The Zone of Silence is Durango’s on-land equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, considering it’s identical placement between the 26th and 28th parallels, which is also where the Great Pyramids of Giza are located.
“…a week before the doctors had reached the site, Dr. White’s family all died in an accident.”
Silencio opens up in 1970 at the site of the missile crash with Dr. James White, played by the delightful John Noble, who played a crazier scientist (and also my favorite character) Walter Bishop in JJ Abrams’ show Fringe. He is accompanied by his young apprentice, Peter (which can be very distracting if you ever did watch Fringe because when John Noble says Peter, it immediately reminded me of the show and his character’s son, Peter Bishop, played by Joshua Jackson). In the film, a week before the doctors had reached the site, Dr. White’s family all died in an accident.
Dr. White and Peter find a very unique stone while digging in The Zone of Silence and take it back with them to their base camp. While Dr. White is recording his notes for the day, he is shocked when Peter tries to touch the stone, as it has radioactive properties. A strange flash occurs, and somehow Dr. White and Peter appear at the site of his family’s accident. Dr. White yells at his granddaughter, Ana, who is across the highway from them, to run over. He saves her from the accident, while the rest of the family still perishes.
We then flash forward to modern day. Ana is a wealthy psychiatrist in Monterrey, Mexico. She lives with her son, Felix, and her grandfather, Dr. White, who in his advancing age, has begun to experience dementia. Ana takes care of both of them but is having a hard time reconciling the fact that she can’t speak to her grandfather that much anymore because she grew up with him being all that she had. Things begin to go on a more of a sci-fi trek from here, but not your textbook sci-fi. It’s more dramatic and emotional than your typical creepy space stuff. This is what makes Silencio stand out from the pack. Villarreal’s script is fascinating and human, and that is one of the many positives of the film.
“It’s more dramatic and emotional than your typical creepy space stuff. This is what makes Silencio stand out…”
Silencio is not without its negatives. While the story is captivating and original, the writing can tend towards melodrama, which I find a little tedious, personally. The balance between drama and melodrama is hard to master, and sometimes in Silencio, that balance is off-kilter. There also seems to be about thirty minutes missing from the film, the character development could have gone more into detail, particularly with Peter, who ends up being a pretty integral part of the film’s plot. The pacing also sometimes seems a bit off, which can be temporarily irksome, although not a total deal-breaker for me.
Overall, I think that Silencio is pretty good and I would watch it again to see if maybe I feel different about it the second go around. The exploration of this urban legend is extremely fun to watch unfold, and at times it reminds me of a good episode of The X-Files. The desert settings really put you in The Zone of Silence, and John Noble’s performance is excellent, if not a little over the top, as always. Melina Matthews is good as the conflicted doctor who must also now believe in the supernatural, but Noble is definitely the “star” of this film.
I wholeheartedly suggest you see Silencio if you are a fan of Fringe or The X-Files because I think it’s important to support women directors, particularly in genre films. There is definitely space for more of us in the sci-fi and horror communities. Just be aware going into it that the film is not perfect or groundbreaking, but it’s certainly entertaining, which is what genre cinema is all about.
Silencio (2018) Written and Directed by Lorena Villarreal. Starring John Noble, Rupert Graves, Melina Matthews, Shayne Coleman, Hoze Melendez, Nic Jackman, Michel Chauvet.
7 Out of 10 Stars