Monday, December 28, 2020

silence & darkness

Fittingly, Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" is a key tune in Barak Barkan's unsettling drama Silence & Darkness. Anna and Beth (Mina Walker and Joan Glackin, both excellent in their screen debuts), are sisters, one blind and one deaf, living in a woodsy remote house with their Father (appropriately creepy Jordan Lage), a physician in town. Anna and Beth live a sort of idyllic, if secluded, existence: playing guitar under the influence of Bob Dylan, soaking in their verdant property, making meals, going to the cinema (a revival of Hitchcock's Rear Window--where dog-digging is also a constituent). As the film unravels this slip of their lives, we watch as they begin to assess that something isn't quite right with Father. 

What emerges in Barkan's careful movie is an involving character study of the sisters and the rhythms of their coexistence. While the film is a taut 81-minutes, the sisterly relationship is explored in a loose manner. Within portraying the sisters and the film's simmering horror elements, the cuts and editing choices by Colton Fordyce are intriguing throughout. The movie ultimately has shades of familial tone poem low-thrillers like Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth and Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's Goodnight Mommy. The cinematography (by Omar Nasr) isn't ostentatious--giving it an immediacy and eerie, clinical atmosphere. The "cleanliness" of the house-setting and of the Father / Doctor is one of the more disturbing elements, particularly his aggressive teeth-flossing (the sound mix is  effective there as it also is in his disturbing field note tape recordings--Lage's voice cuts through the screen). Smartly, the movie stays close to the events and pop references rather than aiming for oversized themes, though the film does harbor a perhaps unintentionally timely discussion about the perils of disease. The green, remote, pretty Vermont locale, with its mountains off in the distance, is a pitch-perfect setting for this chiller: a sense of smoldering wildness beneath the façade of serenity. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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