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SILENCE & DARKNESS (2020)
Directed & Written by Barak Barkan
Starring Mina Walker, Joan Glackin, Jordan Lage, Sandra Gartner, Ariel Zevon
Siblings Anna (Mina Walker) and Beth (Joan Glackin) live in a secluded house in the countryside of a small town with their father (Jordan Lage), who acts as what seems to be the sole doctor for the small town. Anna is blind and Beth is deaf, but the two have developed a strong bond with one another—each relying on the other to make up for the others handicap. While on the surface, their home seems to be a happy one. But Father’s obsession with diseases and scientific mind seems ever present. There is something very wrong going on at this home and soon, the horrifying answers will come to light.
Reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ DOGTOOTH, SILENCE & DARKNESS is a harrowing tale of the unbreakable bond between siblings and the cold callous eye of science. It’s not a typical blood and guts horror film, but it is a creeping tale of dark ideas that will affect the viewer infinitely more than your typical shocker. This movie is a revelation when it comes to slow creeping terror. You know something is off from pretty much the first few minutes, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Once the true terror does show itself, it comes in the guise of familiarity and expertise, but is as spine-chilling as any Halloween fright mask. There is an ever present tone in SILENCE & DARKNESS that feels like an inevitable and slow drive off a cliff, even when the scenes seem to be genuinely sweet.
First time feature filmmaker Barak Barkan delivers a powerful film that will resonate after viewing like an echo in a vast underground cavern. His gift for making the mundane ominous and foreboding is in every scene. While the film highlights the blinding spirit of these two young girls in the face of adversity, he casts them against the blank canvas of the green grass of their yard and the thick forest in the background. They are small in these scene compositions, making them feel insignificant and vulnerable. Every shot seems intentionally deep and resonant, highlighting moods of loneliness, despair, desperation, and fortitude despite it all.
Mina Walker and Joan Glackin are fantastic as Anna and Beth. Their physical performance here is unthinkably complex. The two girls have their own sign language they have developed. The scenes where they teach each other how to play guitar or do handstands highlights their strength and undeniable will. There is an early scene where the two seamlessly work in tandem in order to make dinner for their father that feels like a ritual the two have practiced a lifetime to perform. Yet despite their handicaps they endure and dare to dream. It’s an optimism that makes you root for all of their hopes to come true and wince horribly when they are faced with adversity. There is a tenderness, a closeness, a familiarity the two share that makes this film feel more like a documentary than a film. The final scenes, when we experience the world through the eyes of these two girls, feels like a sledge hammer after you’ve experienced how these girls interact through the entire film. At the same time, Jordan Lage’s Father is convincingly loving to his girls, giving off the illusion of a father who cares for his daughters deeply, but sheds this amiable mask so easily that you barely register the transition. His is an unforgettably terrifying performance.
SILENCE & DARKNESS is a marvelous achievement and I’m so excited to discover Barak Barkan as a new and unconventional voice in cinema. This masterfully crafted and paced story unfolds slowly, but really delivers on every emotional and horrific level. Quirky at times, soul-shattering at others, this is a small yet powerful film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.