The Silenced is a complex horror/suspense/drama that unfolds in one of the more unique ways I’ve seen in a long time. It interlaces multiple story threads, much like the threads in the quilt that the girls of the school were making; lot’s of rising and falling of different stories that collide with each other at some point in the movie, forming the final tapestry we see in the end. If you can avoid being off put by this, and the extreme hamming it up of the adult actors, you’ll find a beautiful acted (the girls), deeply moving, and unique retelling of a story we’ve seen before, but which feels completely fresh and new. There are some great horror-type scenes, but the friendship between Ju-ran and Yeon-deok is by far the most compelling aspect of the movie, and the final minutes with these two make the entire movie worth watching. – 4/5 (genre)
While I can’t say that I would consider The Silenced to be a horror movie, it is without a doubt a suspenseful one. In addition it manages to incorporate both drama, and the strength of bond between friend even beyond death. The Silenced manages to mix in elements of many genres, which tends to get a bit messy and garbled for most movies, but is quite successfully done here.
The Silenced takes place in 1938 Japanese occupied Korea, at a school (translation says sanitarium) just outside of Seoul. A young girl by the name Shizuko (Park Bo-young) is brought to the school by her step-mother during mid-semester and dropped off so that her step mother can join her father in Tokyo. The clash of colors at the beginning is quite astounding, and while I’m uncertain if it was intentional I can’t imagine that such a perfect clash could have been achieved accidentally. Shizuko is wearing the most vibrant red dress and dark black cap, while the school and the girls huddled up at the window above to see her are in very dreary and dull grey’s and white’s. Once inside the Headmistress explains how lucky they are that they are making an exception for Shizuko to join join them in middle of a semester, and with little after thought her step mother is away and Shizuko is stripped of her colorfulness. It is replaced by the basic colors of the school uniform and simple night gowns the other girls were wearing earlier.
Two of the other girls immediately take an interest in Shizuko (who’s real name we find out later is Cha Ju-ran), Kazue (Park So-dam) and Yuka (Kong Ye-ji). Their interests are quite different though as the former is friendly and protective of Ju-ran while the latter is both angry and disgusted by her weakness. When she is introduced as Shizuko all the girls are surprised as it turns out another girl named Shizuko was at the school not that long ago before suddenly leaving. She was also friends with both Kazue and Yuka.
We find out that Ju-ran has TB, and she begins getting treatments for it which slowly and progressively make her better, from the point of initially coughing up blood regularly to not coughing at all. During this time there is quite a bit of rivalry between the girls of the school that is revealed, as the best of the best will be chosen to go to Tokyo. But it’s pretty obvious that the school isn’t quite normal, especially when Kihira (another student; Joo Bo-bi) suddenly becomes enraged with Ju-ran and tackles her to the floor choking her. She is saved only by Kazue, and then Kihira has a seizure. Later Ju-ran apologizes to Kihira for making her angry, but she seems confused and says she’d never get that angry or do anything like that, as if she had no memory of it at all.
A strong friendship forms between Ju-ran and Kazue (who’s real name is Hong Yeon-deok), and there is a rather dormant period from the oddities of the school where the two girls bond. However, Yeon-deok remains a little bit reserved from Ju-ran, mostly because she looks so much like Shizuko (the first one).
This movie is quite complex and detailed with many sub-plots and story lines running simultaneously alongside one another, making it difficult to give a good summary beyond what I have written above. The strange activities continue to happen and we get a good long stretch focusing on this, especially after Ju-ran sees Eguchi under her bed, bones cracking as she moves and bloody but frightened looking. After this the girls are told that Eguchi’s mother came and removed her from the school in middle of the night. These types of events continue, leading to the culmination of the Yeon-deok/Shizuko story which is horrifying in it’s own right, simply because of Yeon-deok’s actions towards her friend. Though I can hardly fault her for her response, if my friend said they felt no pain and had something lodged in their throat that wanted out before contorting in all sorts of odd fashions, I’d probably do what she did, even if I’d like to believe I wouldn’t.
The adults in the movie, such as the Headmistress (Uhm Ji-won) act a bit too cartoon villainy for me, and they feel over played. But it does seem as though this was intentional as a counter balance to what can only be called a superb performance by the teenage girls, especially those playing Ju-ran, Yeon-deok, Yuka, and Kihira. The dynamic between these characters is intense and can be felt deeply inside yourself as they project outward from themselves. It is difficult to explain, but you really feel the interactions, and while I never really felt scared (as I said not really a horror movie) I did feel the fear that the characters experienced.
The primary story is a beautiful mystery that is slowly unraveled like a ball of yarn as things progress, giving just enough clues to keep you guessing and interested to find out what exactly is going on. However, I was disappointed with what it turned out to be, and while I won’t say what it was I think many people will figure it out before the reveal is made. To its credit though the movie makes the reveal long before the end, because the mystery is only part of the story, and the rest is the aftermath of the two main girls finding out. The individual story lines lines (of which there are many) all converge once the reveal is made and what could actually be considered the real movie begins. Here we start to see horror type elements, but it remains more a suspense and drama, which is quite okay with me as it was incredibly touching.
Ju-ran and Yeon-deok attempt to escape but in the process Ju-ran is shot. Yeon-deok stops and whispers something in her ear and then continues to run and get away. Ju-ran is brought back and a new drug is administered to her by the Headmistress to attempt to heal the damage done. The political undertones that had been simmering just under the surface burst through during this time, and the Headmistress is replaced by her underling by orders of the Japanese government. However, the Headmistress is unwilling to let go of the position and begs, pleads, and eventually fights back.
It’s hard to say anymore without revealing the ending, but to simplify things Yeon-deok is caught, Ju-ran recovers and all kinds of craziness ensues. We get some really amazingly done horror/supernatural type scenes with some very raw (albeit not really bloody or gory) deaths. The end result of the movie is pretty easy to see coming, and yet it is amazingly satisfying after everything else that has happened before. The earlier parts of the story are perfectly stacked up in such a way that even though the final 20 minutes or so are very common horror movie fare in western movies, it still feels very freeing and relieving I suppose to watch it all play out. It’s during this time that we get to actually toss The Silenced into the horror category bin, supernatural powers, rather raw killings and general mayhem all add up to this. Somehow, these tropes feel fresh in this movie versus when viewed in western movies. Maybe this has something to do with the way that the directors and writers approached it, taking what would be old hat for us and making it come alive again.
The end end, and I say that because it feels like there are several endings and then restarts as stories close out and fold into others which were previously undertones, is spot on what it should have been. The last couple of minutes with Ju-ran and Yeon-deok are so perfect, and the final lines delivered so airily despite the absolute seriousness and dire truth about them, that one can’t help but feel moved by it. Again, it isn’t anything completely original, it just feels like it, and I actually found myself tearing up a bit. I was quite happy with how it ended.
So what’s wrong with this movie? you might be wondering. Well, there are so many complex stories being told, with multiple rising to the surface and then diving under again, weaving in and out and through each other that at times it can feel like you’re watching at the very least two movies. While it is done well, it can be a bit disorienting and maybe even off putting to some people. If you can manage to push through that, you’ll be rewarded with a good wrap up, but I could understand the difficulty for some. The adult actors are hamming it up pretty good all throughout the movie, which I felt really brought down the quality when one looked at how amazing the teenage actors were. I still think it was intentional, but I feel like we could have done without it and still gotten the counter balance effect of the adults versus children’s sides of the story. There are long periods where it seems like the movie isn’t quite sure what it wants to be, but this is again an after effect of the interlaced story lines that come and go. Also, and maybe most importantly, I’m really not sure why it’s called The Silenced. I’m hoping something got lost in the translation there and I’m not just completely blind to the reasoning, maybe someone else could let me know.
The Silenced is a complex horror/suspense/drama that unfolds in one of the more unique ways I’ve seen in a long time. It interlaces multiple story threads, much like the threads in the quilt (hope that’s what it was) that the girls of the school were making; lot’s of rising and falling of different stories that collide with each other at some point in the movie, forming the final tapestry we see in the end. If you can avoid being off put by this, and the extreme hamming it up of the adult actors, you’ll find a beautiful acted (the girls), deeply moving, and unique retelling of a story we’ve seen before, but which feels completely fresh and new. There are some great horror-type scenes, but the friendship between Ju-ran and Yeon-deok is by far the most compelling aspect of the movie, and the final minutes with these two make the entire movie worth watching.
Overall: 4/5 (genre)