Science fiction, arguably, has always been the more ponderous of the fantastic genres, in that in its various high-concept scenarios, it asks its audience to contemplate large questions regarding the nature of human existence, and how we function within that existence. Lorena Villarreal's english-language feature debut, Silencio, gives such a scenario, but sadly takes a long time to get there, and misses many opportunities to consider deeper and more interesting questions along the way.
In the Zone of Silence, an area of Mexico names as such for its magnetic properties, scientists James (John Noble) and Peter (Nic Jackman) discover a strange stone, which, when handled at precisely 3:33, transports them to a tragic moment in time: when James' daughter, son-in-law, and grandaughters were killed in an auto accident. Except this time, James is able to save one of this grandaughters.
Several years later, Ana (Melina Matthews), now a psychiatrist, lives with her grandfather (who suffers from dementia) and her son, Felix. One of her patients tells her that he sees the ghost of her deceased sister, telling her that she must find this stone, which James hid years ago. Sure enough, that night, James awakes and goes to find the stone. Except someone else is looking for it, and after that person kidnaps Felix, Ana finds Peter again (now Rupert Graves) to find the stone and get her son back.
If the plot sounds a bit confusing, that's because it's a case of too many factors making a muddle of what is in essence a good idea. A stone that can transport someone to a time when they can change the future is interesting; but add on top of that, a lack of questioning by Ana as to why she is even alive in the first place, the fact that her dead sister can communicate with a living person who can tell Ana what she should do, and a kidnappedc child that puts most of these questions to rest, and it leaves little room for the kind of contemplation that Villarreal seems to want to elicit from the audience.
In theory, adding the thriller elements to the story in order to keep the pace up is a good idea. However, in the case of this film, all is does is move the story away from its fundamental questions of life and existence. And indeed, while a certain suspension of disbelief is always necessary (especially in fantastic genre film), there are too many plot holes and logic problems to contend with (such as thorough scientific testing, yet no other results of change of the timeline are known; Peter wants to use the stone for himself, and apparently James called him even though he has dementia, but Peter still can't get the stone). All these adds to a lack of focus rather than an interest in the various directions that the story might be taking.
The actors certainly give all they can to the story; Noble (Denethor from The Lord of the Rings) plays both the lucid and dementia sides of James well, and Graves does his best given that most of his material is exposition. Matthews would seem to have a lot to work with, but again, the story never lets her explore the character's reaction to these changes in her past and future, only the immediate danger of her son (not that this is a light topic, but gives her little emotional range to work with).
While the idea had great potential, somewhere interesting philosophical and science-fiction elements of Silencio were lost in a thriller that isn't as thrilling as it should be, and deeper questions left to a final scene that is rushed rather than explored.
Silencio opens in US cinemas this Friday, October 26th.