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The Silencing

“A goddamn tree hugger” is what one red-bearded would-be poacher calls Rayburn Swanson after getting kicked off the wildlife sanctuary the not-quite-grizzled sort-of warden looks after. Said sanctuary is named for Rayburn’s daughter, who disappeared five years prior, only in her teens, and for whom Rayburn is still printing and posting mission persons fliers.

It’s perhaps emblematic of how much Belgian director Robin Pront understands life in the United States that a wildlife sanctuary would be named after a missing local citizen after only five years, but then again, the screenwriter, Micah Ranum, seems to be from these parts. Rayburn is played by the Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, here giving off strong beardo Aaron Eckhart vibes. You will not be surprised to learn that the bereft former hunter—he gave up killing animals for looking after them due to his daughter’s disapproval—drinks too much. Nor may you be surprised to learn that his surrounding area also has a Tribal Police Force, and that the non-tribal police force is headed by a Compassionate Female Cop, Alice, played by Annabelle Wallis. And you’ll never guess this, but she has a dirtbag druggy younger brother who she looks out for maybe a little too caringly, played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin. When a dead body turns up, suspicions arise that a serial killer is loose, and that killer might have gotten Rayburn’s girl years ago.

So far, so predictable; add in dialogue like, “Out here that badge don’t mean shit, lady,” and you start wondering if this movie’s going to put ANYTHING new on the table. I mean, Pront shoots and stages all this stuff with slick facility, and the Dane and the two English actors really put their back into playing gruff rural ‘Muricans, or maybe Canadians (things never come off as all that specific), but one does feel one’s seen all this before.

Well, “The Silencing” does indeed put something new on the table, a killer dressed in a costume that looks like an overgrown Muppet, or maybe that Easter mascot from “Toni Erdmann.” It’s big and it’s furry and it must be hard to get around in, or I guess it would be hard to get around in if the movie adhered to real-life physics, because whoever is inside this particular costume has no problem running like hell or executing tricky knife maneuvers. Another new thing it does is make Alice so thoroughly unethical that it’s impossible to maintain a rooting interest in her, even though the movie insists you ought to.

Nowadays it seems when European filmmakers want to make pictures in North America, it’s always some gritty backwoods blood-drenched drama or thriller. Same with young actors like the Fiennes fella wanting to play black-eyed scruffy snotty miscreants. Is this some wayward pursuit of a kind of authenticity? Because what it is, ultimately, no matter how much competence is brought to bear to such exercises, is tiresome. To paraphrase Waylon Jennings, Are You Sure Lubitsch Done It This Way? Those unconcerned with such production details might find this a credible way to kill an hour and thirty minutes, on the other hand. 

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

The Silencing movie poster

The Silencing (2020)

Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.

93 minutes


Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Rayburn Swanson

Annabelle Wallis as Sheriff Alice Gustafson

Zahn McClarnon as Blackhawk

Melanie Scrofano as Debbie

Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Brooks

Alec Stockwell as Very Old Man






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