The precarious balance of a dysfunctional family is thrown off kilter by a new member in THE QUIET. The unraveling makes for a disturbing drama that is as riveting to watch as it is challenging to contemplate.
The new family member is Dot (Camilla Belle), an orphaned deaf-mute teenager who arrives at the home of her godparents, Paul and Olivia Deer (Martin Donovan and Edie Falco) with a psychic trauma and the box containing her father’s ashes. They are sympathetic, supportive, and at a loss as to why their daughter, Nina (Elisha Cuthbert), is so antagonistic towards Dot. Far from oblivious to Nina’s open and virulent contempt, Dot retreats further into her own world, interacting with her new family, or anyone at her new school for that matter, as little as possible. The effect on the family and their circle of friends, though, is profound. Because Dot can’t hear, only read lips, and can’t speak, everyone feels free to vent their innermost thoughts, most of them demon-infused, more terrifying to the speaker than to anyone to whom they are spoken, hearing or not. It creates an odd, unsettling intimacy between Dot and the people confessing to her, and between those people and the audience. The question of how much Dot understands, and whether or not she will keep it to herself, makes for even more tension, in addition to that already present in the family sheltering her, the father who keeps a polite emotional distance from his alcoholic, pill-popping wife, and who, invests too much in his relationship with his pretty and rebellious daughter, who for her part, is torn in two by conflicting emotions and impulses. In keeping with the film’s title, it is what is left unsaid in this film, either because it is unspeakable or because the time for arguing over the same issues is long past, that drives the action while, at the same time, hamstringing the characters.
Cuthbert is a revelation here as the popular cheerleader whose arrogance veneer barely covers insecurities and grief that is more than one so young can bear. The unsteady relationship she forges with Dot, moving from vicious snarling to equally vicious confessions to an equally vicious attachment moves with an emotional logic that is never less than absolutely true to Nina’s nature. She is at once a victim, vulnerable and confused, and a predator with a victim’s mentality and conscious. The cold look in her eye, the set expression of her face, and her movements carefully calculated to maintain a look of quiet suburban normality, giving away only the normal quota of teenage angst, while protecting the aching wound at her core are mesmerizing. She more than holds her own with virtuosos like Donovan and Falco, and with Belle, who makes Dot a perfect cipher and a distinct presence with her expressive face and even more expressive silence.
THE QUIET is a tragedy of epic proportions, played out in hushed tones and subdued colors that only heighten the acute pain that everyone involved is experiencing. With none of the rules of conventional society to go by, it makes its own sense of monstrous crimes committed in the name of love, keeping the audience on edge and second-guessing right until the end.