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Experience a Sensory Small-Town Thriller with 'Silence & Darkness'

Father stands in forest
Jordan Lage as FATHER in Barak Barkan's SILENCE & DARKNESS

In Silence & Darkness, director and writer Barak Barkan's feature-length directorial debut, an idyllic pastoral scene turns sinister when two sisters realize that Father's intentions are not as caring as they have always believed.

A family of three reside in a spacious but cozy home in a remote spot in small-town Vermont. Father is the town doctor who leaves home each day to work at his small practice. The teenage girls spend most of their days inside the home, exploring their individual passions and away from high-risk areas, where diseases run rampant. Father (Jordan Lage) has indoctrinated them from their youth on the many dangers and diseases carried in the world around them.

Anna (Mina Walker) is blind but adores listening and performing music, especially Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." Beth (Joan Glackin), sees perfectly but is completely deaf and spends her time perfecting gymnastic feats in the yard. Together, the girls function in perfect harmony, using ASL to communicate with each other and Father. They have their own system of teamwork that is wondrous to behold. Because they share everything, both have access to the sensory information they each lack. By all counts Father dotes on them, and they live in a state of idyllic fairy-tale bliss. But when a neighbor discovers maggot-covered bones on their property, Anna begins to suspect Father of something sinister. As the story progresses, the suspense intensifies, moving from general discomfort to all-out horror. Father realizes the girls suspect him of something and decides to take action in a shocking way.

Anna teaches Beth how to play guitar
Mina Walker as ANNA and Joan Glackin as BETH in Barak Barkan's SILENCE & DARKNESS

This small-budget thriller keeps viewers on edge throughout. Because the girls communicate with ASL, the average viewer who doesn't speak that language fluently doesn't know what is being said. It's only after the conversation, when action takes place, that we can deduce the dialogue witnessed. Also, the truth about Father and how the girls came to be is kept unclear until the very end. While he dotes on the girl, he also appears to be fearful of germs, especially those between teeth. Some of the home treatments he doles out to the girls seem strange, so we, along with the girls, live in the realm of growing suspicion of wrongdoing. The other information we glean about Father comes in the form of the voice recordings he makes each day about the girl's progress, as if they are patients instead of children. Father reveals very little about his thoughts and feelings, so these audio diaries provide auxiliary puzzle pieces of the full picture.

In another visual twist, the camera often captures the characters from the neck-down only. Often, we see all of the girls, and only Father's body as he moves around them, which lends him an air of uncaring authoritarian. Part of the reason might be to put emphasis on the communication happening with the hands, but the effect makes Father appear more sinister than he might otherwise. 

Father tends to his girls
Jordan Lage as FATHER and Mina Walker as ANNA in Barak Barkan's SILENCE & DARKNESS

The sound editing and design also contribute to the unease. Long stretches occur where ambient noises are the only soundtrack. We hear birds chirp, water moving, or the girls breathing as they walk through the house. At times, Anna listens to her Bob Dylan music, but the song cuts out quickly, creating an abrupt transition to silence again. The silent and ambient soundscapes provide windows into the way both Anna and Beth hear on a regular basis. Towards the end of the movie, back-to-back tracking shots reveal the visual and auditory perspectives of a blind person and a deaf person, respectively, creating an immersive and impressive cinematic moment.

The three main actors come from a stage acting background, which helps immensely in these performances, since dialogue is kept to a minimum. Jorgan Lage has the right amount of calm and clinical affect that makes him seem not quite right, without appearing overtly evil. Walker and Glackin create magic, whether they share the screen or hold it alone. In segments where they tag-team to reach a goal, their movements communicate their bond and love they have for one another. Every moment causes the viewer to lean forward, anxious to see what these two will do next. The way these two work together to accomplish things they couldn't do alone make for some of the most suspenseful filmmaking I have seen in awhile. These two could start their own detective agency to solve crimes using sensory cues.

One flaw in the visual composition: at times the picture was so dark, it was difficult to see the action happening on screen. Perhaps the director meant this to be part of the darkness referred to in the title, but it alienated this viewer.

Beth does gymnastics
Joan Glackin as BETH in Barak Barkan's SILENCE & DARKNESS

Silence & Darkness
feels like a blend of many things. It's the story of a Father who has taught his girls to fear disease and sickness, and therefore, he's taught them to despise themselves. It's the story of survival, where two girls who grew up with different abilities than those around them learned how to thrive despite those differences. It's the story of two girls who are lied to from the one person they should be able to trust. And a story of unbreakable love, even in the midst of unbelievable cruelty.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

Movie poster of Silence & Darkness