In the dark drama The Quiet, the arrival of a teenage girl disrupts the existence of a seemingly normal suburbanite family. When recently orphaned Dot (Camilla Belle) comes to live with her godparents Paul and Olivia (Martin Donovan and Edie Falco), she is immediately ostracized by their daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert). Labeled as a deaf mute, Dot is merciless teased by Nina and her high school in-crowd friends. But there is also something strangely comforting in her mysterious silence, and everyone seems willing to confide their deepest, darkest secrets in Dot, using her as an outlet for their cathartic confessionals. Eventually, Dot's role as a silent observer leads to the discovery that Paul is having an incestuous relationship with Nina.
Thoroughly atmospheric, The Quiet's shocking story avoids devolving into tabloid melodrama by being grounded by a solid cast. Martin Donovan's performance is continuously unsettling--Paul is both disturbingly casual about having sex with his own daughter and lecherously obsessive about keeping her to himself. The relationship would be creepy enough were they not related, but the incestuous aspect lends another twisted dimension to the uncomfortable equation. The sordid affair culminates in a climactic fight in which Paul forces himself upon Nina, and in a very effective bit of storytelling, most of the scene is told from the perspective of someone in another room. As a result, the audience perceives the exchange mostly as muffled screams and struggling, leaving one's imagination to fill in the horrors of the scenario.
Camilla Belle's Dot is the most nuanced of the cast of characters, and the actress recently seen in When a Stranger Calls and The Chumscrubber does a great job with her. While she elicits sympathy as the alienated outcast, she also has her own flaws and secrets, and isn't the wallflower that one might assume she would be. In fact, Dot makes it very clear from the beginning that she doesn't want pity when she scoffs at a school counselor trying to make small talk with her. She's the type of outsider looking in by choice, with a sort of inherent disdain for many of those around her.
On the downside, Dot is the only fully realized character, with the rest being simple archetypes: Paul is an abusive father with no redeeming qualities; his wife Olivia is a depressed, pill-popping, perpetually over-medicated housewife; and Nina's friend Michelle is a superficial cheerleader whose sole job is to make crass remarks and reflect "that world." Even Nina, who occasionally demonstrates a certain level of complexity by being simultaneously repulsed by and adoring of her father, is essentially a case study from a psychology textbook. Still, while the characters aren't always the most compelling individually, their story as they come together is. And at a taut runtime of roughly 90 minutes, The Quiet strikes efficiently and leaves an uneasy impression that lingers far more effectively than B-movies that have used similar themes in the past.
While the story includes a completely predictable twist, it is handled surprisingly well. Firstly, the revelation comes relatively early so that the whole movie does not hinge upon in it; and secondly, it actually leads to more questions with more interesting answers. This is a welcome change of pace from less accomplished films that would have made this single element the climax of the entire story before totally fizzling out.
The movie has a sexually charged undercurrent, though it may not be as gratuitous as some fans of stars Camilla Belle and Elisha Cuthbert may be expecting. While the trailers, TV spots, and promotional photos mostly play up a Wild Things-like angle (with the shot of Cuthbert whispering into Belle's ear being a prime example), the story is more about skeletons in the closet than seduction. Yes, Cuthbert's two main outfits are her cheerleading uniform and her underwear, and when Nina isn't sleeping with her father, she's invariably sharing the bed with another girl. But there is far more substance to the film than such gimmicky (but wholly understandable) marketing tactics would suggest.
The Quiet is a story about secrets, lies, and their ensuing consequences. It's a small film that will likely be overlooked by many, but its underdog status, combined with solid performances and disquieting themes, makes it a fine candidate for our annual Editors' Choice pick, and we eagerly recommend it to those who like dark, independent thrillers.
Click on a thumbnail to view the full-sized picture.