Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The increasingly ridiculous nature of the narrative is almost wholly redeemed by the intensity of the director's vision."

Two scientists investigating a meteorite impact in the Zone of Silence, sometimes called Mexico's Bermuda Triangle, find a mysterious stone whose properties are so remarkable that they keep it under wraps. Decades later, one of them is assaulted in his home, and his granddaughter Ana (Melina Matthews) is forced to try and locate the stone's secret hiding place in order to save the life of her young son. Lorena Villarreal's second feature film is impeccably made and a real pleasure to watch. Even as the internal logic of the story collapses, the actors give it their all, and the increasingly ridiculous nature of the narrative is almost wholly redeemed by the intensity of the director's vision.

This is not the Mexico we usually see onscreen - we are far from the slums and the peasant villages where everyday life goes on under the shadow of the cartels. Ana lives in a large, handsome suburban house so full of geological treasures that the young thug sent there to look for a stone finds himself confounded. Played by Hoze Meléndez, he's one of the highlights of the film, a young man whose impulsive decision to turn to kidnapping quickly leads him out of his depth. Ian Garcia Monterrubio also shines, playing the boy, and the random ill fortune that befalls them both bears the hallmarks of South American literature. This is a narrative world in which happenstance can be every bit as significant what is planned or what becomes inevitable. The film is stronger when confronting the vagaries of life in this way than when trying to pursue a logical course, something that will ultimately lead it to the world's most easily solved and tension-free dilemma.

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Despite its structural problems, the film pulls off its basic premise with assurance and the beautifully drawn characters make it easy for viewers to become emotionally invested in the outcome. Villareal's pacing is perfect and - right up until the final scenes - she succeeds in maintaining a sense of urgency without losing sight of the importance of what is happening in the moment. There's a lyrical quality to her work, beautifully complemented by Mateo Londono's cinematography. A melodic, melancholy score and excellent sound mixing complete the experience. Genre cinema is rarely this beguiling.

Coursing through the film are other currents - themes of disease, corruption and human smallness in the face of the unknown. Out in the desert, Villareal keeps her camera at a low angle; the landscape is dominated by the sky. People scuttle like insects across the dirt, an image later reflected by an eerie night spent digging in a graveyard - humans scrabbling on the face of an Earth that it part of something much bigger. One of Ana's clients, a psychic, assures her that the dead are always watching. The tangible world is intertwined with something other, and Ana's journey through it could never be straightforward, stone or not. Silencio doesn't need the McGuffin to make its audience shiver or yearn for those magical connections that only cinema can reliably provide.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2018
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In order to save her son's life, Ana embarks on a quest to find a stone her grandfather one retrieved from the Zone of Silence.

Director: Lorena Villarreal

Writer: Lorena Villarreal

Starring: Melina Matthews, John Noble, Rupert Graves, Hoze Meléndez, Michel Chauvet, Ian Garcia Monterrubio

Year: 2018

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Mexico, US


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