Writer/director Lorena Villarreal’s ("Las lloronas") lasted film, "Silencio," is a story built around the Zone of Silence in Mexico, a place where reportedly strange things happen constantly. A team of scientists investigating a missile crash discover an unusual stone that gives the holder the power to travel through time to save a life. It is a power so great that a mother (Melina Matthews) and her small son are put in danger by those who want the stone.
The film, slated to open in select theaters Oct. 26, has all the trappings of a sci-fi tale: an area where odd things reportedly happen; time travel; good and bad scientists; and the power over life and death. Looking at the movie in that context lessens the entertainment value. The best way to approach "Silencio" is as a family drama.
It starts with John Noble who plays James, the scientist/grandfather who uses the stone to save his granddaughter. He’s also the first to discover that the universe has a way of staying in balance and for every life that’s saved using the stone, another is lost. It’s at that point, he hides the stone in a place where even he can’t find it. This doesn’t stop James from being threatened by someone who wants the stone. The stakes get higher when a family member is kidnapped.
Noble continues to show the ability to ground even the most outlandish plot ideas as he did so well in the television series "Fringe." He’s not the kind of actor who feels compelled to give the audience a wink and a nod to show he doesn’t believe the fantasy elements he’s playing, but instead gives the production a gravitas it needs. He’s playing the truth of what it means to be a caring grandfather and the rest is just set dressings.
The biggest complaint with Noble’s work is a mistake made by Villarreal. There is a large time element in this story that never feels right because, except for a change in his hair color, Noble’s character looks to be the same age despite passing decades. It would have been a smarter move to have a younger actor play James at the start of the film.
Melina Matthews ("Fugitiva") handles the role of mother and granddaughter with equal ease. She’s strong when needed, yet shows great vulnerability with just as much skill. Again, the problem with her performance doesn’t come from her acting but the script by Villarreal. It is not easy to take a normal person and turn them into a violent vigilante without losing grasp of the reality of the character. The grasp never fails but becomes dangerously slippery.
Distracting from their work is that pesky sci-fi element that keeps popping up in the movie. The filmmakers present the movie as having more depth because it is inspired by true events, but opting for seeing it on a pure fictional level is a far better choice.
Films that are based on true events get judged differently than those that are pure fiction. "Dunkirk" got high marks for production values but lost points because of how much of the history of the real event had to be manipulated for dramatic affect. Along comes "Silencio," a film that states at the beginning it is based on a true story. The only problem is the film can’t be weighed the same way because there is no historical basis. Legend has it that the Zone of Silence is a place of strange happenings but there’s no real proof to support the claims. It’s a mythology given life as a way to lure more tourist traffic.
About the only thing that is historically correct is that an American test rocket did go off course and crash in the Zone of Silence. After that, the fictional elements kick in for good.
It’s best to focus on the relationships between the characters played by Noble, Matthews and Rupert Graves. They might be wading through a fake mythology and pure elements of science fiction but they treat the story with a reverence that makes the human elements work.
"Silencio" comes up short when measured as a whole particularly because of the attempt to build the film on some type of reality base. And, Villarreal makes some novice mistakes from casting to writing. But, there are enough individual strong family elements, particularly the work of Noble and Matthews, to make "Silencio" entertaining.
Cast: John Noble, Melina Matthews, Rupert Graves.
Director: Lorena Villarreal
Rated: R, contains some violence
Running time: 98 minutes.