A serial killer is hunting teen girls in the deep Minnesota woods. Sound familiar? It falls to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones) to bring down the culprit. To be fair, the Danish actor goes the extra mile in The Silencing (on VOD starting August 14th), which is more than you can say for the pedestrian work of director Robin Pront and screenwriter Micah Ranum. Coster-Waldau’s character, an alcoholic hunter named Rayburn Swanson, has been trying to track the whereabouts of his daughter, Gwen, who went missing five years ago when she was just 14. Rayburn had left her in his truck while he freshened his booze supply. Guilt is eating at him, though it’s clear he’d been drinking heavily before her disappearance.
Why? That kind of character detail goes frustratingly unexamined. Even though a chastened Rayburn has stopped trapping game to run a wildlife preserve (Gwen hated his animal cruelty), his love of liquor continues unabated. Maybe that’s because his ex-wife is now pregnant by another man and wants Rayburn to sign a death certificate for their child, so they can achieve closure with a funeral. He resists, refusing to give up hope, and outfits his cabin with high-tech surveillance equipment. Living with his dog Thor, this hunter stays vigilant in case the killer strikes again. It’s only a matter of time.
No sooner is the dead body of a young woman found with her voice box slashed (the silencing!) than Rayburn’s security cameras show someone in full ghillie suit camo, chasing another screaming girl. Our hero takes off in hot pursuit, yet his rifle proves no match for the killer’s weapon of choice: an “Atlati,” a spear that can deliver speeds of 100 mph. That’s more than enough to slow down Rayburn until he can cauterize the wound in his shoulder, Rambo style, and get back on the killer’s trail.
He’s not alone. There’s a new Sheriff in the town of Echo Falls. She’s Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis) and she feels this is her case, not Rayburn’s. She also has a personal connection to the crimes. Her troubled brother, Brooks, played by a brooding Hero Fiennes Tiffin (nephew of Ralph and Joseph Fiennes) has been found at the scene and looks like the prime suspect. Guilt is eating away at Alice since she abandoned Brooks after the death of their parents to start a police career in Chicago. That left the boy in the care of unseen scary people. ”What did they do to you in that barn?” asks Alice, as if afraid to hear the answer. No worries. As usual, the script tells us nothing.
In fact, The Silencing fills its 97 meandering minutes with false leads that grow ever more frustrating. Coster-Waldau and Wallis, so good in Peaky Blinders, do their best to promote a rooting interest in characters the script never bothers to develop. Though the film generates some tension in the cat-and-mouse game that Rayburn plays inside and outside the law, the final reveal seems to come out of nowhere. You can see this kind of slow-burn thriller done much better in movies like Wind River and shows like HBO’s True Detective. Even in these pandemic times, when we all hunger for escapism, this long journey to a lame ending hardly fills the bill.