The Quiet review by Mike Long

Movies featuring dysfunctional families have been around for years. (Just look at all of the movies made in the mid 20th century which were based on plays that featured fractured families.) But, today, it seems that dysfunctional families are a must-have ingredient for dramas -- especially independent dramas. And every year, we get a movie which ups the ante when it comes to families with problems. The Quiet is a movie which has a hackneyed premise, but I must say that it features one of most twisted group of characters that I've ever seen.

Dot (Camilla Belle) is a teenaged girl who is deaf and mute. As her father has just died, she's come to live with her godparents, the Deers. Paul Deer (Martin Donovan) is a successful architect. Olivia Deer (Edie Falco) is well-known for her interior decorating skills. Their daughter, Nina (Elisa Cuthbert), is a cheerleader and is considered to be the prettiest girl in school. The Deers appear to be the perfect American family and they must be good people for taking in Dot.

However, underneath the surface, the Deers are very scarred. Olivia is a prescription-drug addict who spends most days staring blankly at the TV news. Nina is a spoiled-brat who doesn't like the fact that Dot is getting attention and sympathy. And Paul...Paul has the darkest secret of all.

Dot is immersed into this world, and that of high school, where she meets local heartthrob Connor (Shawn Ashmore). Due to the fact that Dot is deaf, those around her feel comfortable revealing their inner-most secrets (despite the fact that Dot can read lips). Thus, Dot learns very disturbing things about those around her, and remains a passive witness. But, when Nina reveals that she plans to do something illegal, will Dot find a way to break her silence?

As I was watching The Quiet, I slowly began to realize that the movie is actually a sort of remake of the 1992 Drew Barrymore vehicle Poison Ivy. The Quiet has tweaked some that film's ideas and thrown in a hint of Better Off Dead, but there are many parallels. (And let's be honest, doesn't every movie rip off Better Off Dead in some way?) But, if you thought that Poison Ivy had some twisted ides, then you haven't seen anything yet. (For me, Poison Ivy will always be remembered for the scene in which Tom Skerrit and Drew Barrymore are both completely naked and yet there's no nudity. How's they do that?)

I'm being intentionally vague about some of the plot specifics in The Quiet on purpose. Suffice it to say that everyone in this movie hides a nasty secret. The thing which makes The Quiet somewhat interesting is how the behavior of the characters is treated. Most everyone in this film is doing something very bad which they should be ashamed of, but when they are performing the action, they act as if it's the most normal thing in the world. This is especially true with Paul, who is so nonchalant attitude towards his behavior is sickening. And while Paul may be the most reprehensible character in the film, Nina is the most twisted. She's a true sociopath who does whatever it takes to get her way.

And again, Dot is thrown in the middle of this lunacy. However, it's very hard to connect with her character due to the way in which she withdraws from the world and gives everyone the same blank, opened-mouth stare. But, Dot is also at the center of the most fascinating part of the film. The way in which the characters in the film use Dot as a confessional portrays a side of human nature which is rarely explored in film. We've all done something questionable which we wish that we could tell someone about, and the people populating this film use Dot for just that purpose. Knowing that she (probably) doesn't know what they are saying and that she won't respond to judge them, the characters bare their souls to Dot. In the film, this catharsis either helps the characters or fuels their insanity.

Clearly, The Quiet offers some intriguing possibilities, but as a whole, the movie doesn't work. The main problem with the film is that it feels like an exploitation movie. Everyone in the film is over-the-top crazy (but in a subtle way) and the movie piles on scene-after-scene of degradation. Yes, some of the movie is shocking, but it becomes numbing after a while. The worst culprit is Nina, whose evil seems to grow with every scene. Maybe it's just me, but I've had it with the "pretty bitch in high school" thing. Also, we get very little explanation for why the characters behave the way that they do. This is yet another movie where we are asked to feel something for rich characters who have damaged lives. Boo-hoo. The movie also has an odd tone. The film features a lyrical voice-over from Dot which smacks of an indie art film, but then it throws in dialogue which would make Larry Clark blush.

This may sound cliched, but they don't make movies like The Quiet anymore. This feels like something straight out of the late 80s or early 90s. The film looks at the dark underbelly of human nature through a smoky, stylized lens. The movie has some shocking moments, but it never really fulfills its potential, or worse, justifies its own existence.

The Quiet lets itself be heard on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very nice here, as the picture is sharp and clear, free from overt grain or defects from the source material. The film has a very dark look, but the action is always visible and the colors are fine. Artifacting and video noise are kept to a minimum, but the image is a bit soft in some shots. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are intermittent, but OK when present. The surround sound effects come mainly from crowd noise and musical cues.

The DVD features a few extras. "Fetal Pig, Fetal Pig, Let Me In" (5 minutes) is a behind-the-scenes look at science class scene. The Property Master explains how the pigs were obtained -- These were real fetal pigs which had to be ordered from science supply company. With "Locations: Shooting in Austin" (7 minutes), cast and crew talk about shooting in Austin. Specific locations are mentioned, such as house and restaurant. Some location scouting is shown. Touches on production design as well. "Sans Celluloid: The Quiet and Digital Cinema" (5 minutes) has director Jamie Babbit talking about the use of HD in the movie -- why it was used and what look was desired. "Script Development" (10 minutes) plays more like a standard "making of". Writers talk about the origins of the script, starting with Dot and going from there. Director talks about how script came to life in pictures. "The Cast" (10 minutes) is pretty self explanatory, but is interesting to learn that Dot was originally to be played by Thora Birch.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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