Friday, October 26, 2018

Silencio: It Came from the Zone of Silence

How is it possible the original In Search of overlooked Mexico’s Mapimí Silent Zone (a.k.a. “The Zone of Silence”)—and yet it did. However, that left the door wide open for others to exploit the bizarre real-world phenomenon in conspiracy-driven science fiction. Director-screenwriter Lorena Villarreal takes us into the Zone and back in Silencio (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

This much is true: The Zone lies roughly on the same latitude as the Bermuda Triangle and has been a magnet for meteors. In the 1970s, a US Air Force test missile landed there after veering wildly astray. That is the jumping off point for Villarreal’s fantastical fiction. Ana’s grandfather James was one of the scientists working on the recovery mission. He and his protégé Peter chanced upon a cobalt Macguffin that whisks them back to the accident site where James’ daughter and granddaughters were killed several days earlier. Thanks to his inexplicable presence, James manages to save Ana, but at a considerable price.

Back in the present day, Ana’s grandfather is mostly lost inside his dementia-plagued head. However, he suddenly snaps out of it at 3:33 AM, for complicated reasons involving the stone, a conspiracy to recover it, and the visions of Ana’s patient Daniel, who claims (evidently with justification) that he can talk to the dead. Unfortunately, Grandpa James starts to slip back into his shell before he can remove the stone from its hiding place, which will put Ana in an awkward position.

In terms of its internal logic, Villarreal’s narrative does not hold enough water to nourish the smallest cactus in the Zone of Silence. On the other hand, she has a nice touch with characterization. The relationship between Ana and her grandfather is well-drawn and endearing. Unfortunately, the revelation of the secret bad guy comes as absolutely no surprise, given the limited cast of characters. Yet, she still maintains everyone’s humanity across the board, in intriguing ways, even after the big reveal.

John Noble and Rupert Graves (Lestrade in the Cumberbatch Sherlock) are both terrific as Grandfather James and modern-day Peter. Likewise, Melina Matthews and Michel Chauvet develop a strong rapport as Ana and Daniel, which even evolves into romantic interest, because at a certain point, the doctor-patient relationship is the least of everyone’s concern.

Villarreal helms with a sensitive touch, getting some nicely turned performances from her small ensemble and mostly (but not entirely) powering through viewer disbelief. However, further revisions and polishing of the script would have led to a much smoother ride for the audience. It is admittedly flawed, but there is some good work in there that deserves acknowledgment. It is far from a slam dunk, but it shows tons of promise for Villarreal and company. Recommended for supporters of Mexican indie cinema (particularly in genre varieties), Silencio opens today (10/26) in New York, at AMC Loews 34th Street.