‘The Silence’: A Netflix Algorithm Mishap

Netflix’s algorithms have predicted some of our favorite original productions, but “The Silence” isn’t one of them.

Promotional imagery for The Silence, a new Netflix original film. (via netflix.com)

Netflix’s “The Silence,” directed by John R. Leonetti and based on the novel of the same name by Tim Lebbon, chronicles the world as attacked by blind, flesh-eating, pterodactyl-like bats called Vesps. The movie follows 16-year-old Ally (Kiernan Shipka), who lost her hearing in a car accident three years earlier and her family as they flee the city for somewhere quieter. Having found refuge, the family then encounters a tongue-less cult looking to exploit Ally’s heightened senses and repopulate the world. It’s as if the filmmakers realized that blind, flesh-eating bats wouldn’t be enough to carry the audience for 90 minutes, so behold, a cult.

The premise of “The Silence” has uncanny parallels to John Krasinki’s “A Quiet Place,” but where the latter explores deafness as both a narrative and framing device, Ally’s deafness remains largely unexplored and is often treated as an accessory or a crutch to the spoken dialogue in the film. Even though everyone in the family knows ASL, they still mostly rely on speech. In a scene where the family is trapped in the car and the Vesps are right outside, for example, the characters still choose whispers over signs. This only speaks to Leonetti not fully trusting the hearing part of his audience to be able to follow scenes consisting of just sign language and a complete lack of awareness of viewers who are actually hard of hearing. It also shows a lack of research and commitment to accurately portraying the deaf experience. This point was brought up by deaf activists and actors including Nyle DiMarco, who called out Leonetti for casting a hearing actress to play a deaf character.

On top of the shoddy representation of deafness, the movie is full of plot holes. The first thing that stands out is the non-existent timeline. At no point does the film indicate how many days, weeks, months have passed since the beginning of the apocalypse. When the family arrives at their first stop, it feels as if no more than three days have passed — that is, until the cult shows up. Even though it is safe to assume that few viewers will have an intricate understanding of how a cult is formed, most will question a fully formed cult of people without tongues ready to repopulate the world after what feels like just a few days.

Even though the movie is classified as a horror-thriller, there are moments of humor throughout “The Silence.” Granted, these are mostly unintentional and found in on-the-nose music cues or laughable line delivery. One stand-out moment is when the family arrives at a country house and triggers a sound alarm when trying to open a gate to get to the building. The sound of the alarm brings out an elderly woman with a shotgun shouting “Get off my property!” The family then watches as she gets attacked by the Vesps and is thrown into a well before they enter her house and make themselves comfortable.

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“The Silence” feels like a prequel to “A Quiet Place” but is an unsuccessful and passionless remix of tropes surrounding deafness and overused apocalyptic themes. It feels as if it was solely created as an imitator. It’s almost as if Netflix producers thought that since last year’s “Birdbox” was a hit and Kiernan Shipka is starring in the popular “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “The Silence” would be a hit. While Netflix’s algorithms have been successful in the past, this is a clear example of how art and film, in particular, can rarely be calculated by computers.  

Email Yaroslava Bondar at [email protected]

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