Movies or novels with gruesome murders and beastly serial killers -- previously it's an American specialty. But, the modern European pop culture seems obsessed with murder yarns, especially after the publication of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Baran bo Odar's "The Silence" (Das letze Schweigen, 2010) has all these qualities of a crime/drama: a distant past murder in a small town, a cop hero, who fights his personal demons. As a serial killer movie, "The Silence" takes a different approach. It examines about a gruesome murder in a community and at the same time takes a viewpoint of the murderer and accomplice. It is a thriller, but not a whodunit kind. You might see who the murderer is, in the first few minutes, but the questions it poses us probes deeper and darker. David Lynch has said, "Evil lurks below the surface of an oppressively normal place." The quote perfectly gels with this film.
It's 1986. Somewhere in rural Germany two men are riding in a car and come across a young girl, Pia, riding bicycle through a wheat field. The older one of the two stops the 11 year old girl, rapes and murders her. The young guy stands dumbfounded and does nothing to stop the horror. The younger man named Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) and the murderer, Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) are unveiled, but he case was never solved. Why Timo did nothing to stop the crime? And is he also a demon and a accomplice to the murderer?
Flash forward to 23 years later, in 2009, we are introduced to Pia's mother, Elena (Katrin Sass) and Krischan (Burghart Klaussner), the police officer, haunted by his unsuccessful attempt in finding the killer. He is now going to retire. David (Sebastian Blomberg) is a fellow detective. He has returned to police work after mourning the loss of his young wife. Then, there is Sinnika (Anna Lena Klenke) -- a brazen 13 year old girl with troubled parents. She disappears on the same spot as Pia, with the bicycle abandoned in the field.
The sure-footed Krischan finds the similarity in both the killings, but David dismisses the coincidence and thinks it as copy-cat killing. Timo is now a family man, living in suburbs. He is happily married with two children. He is relocated in another city and when he sees the news about the disappearance of the 13 year old girl, he gets shaken and once again the past comes to haunt him. He decides to pursue his old friend, although he does not know (like the viewers), that Peer is the killer.
Director Baran bo Odar, in his feature-film debut, is at first, a little uncertain with his storytelling method. But, Baran's images and camera angles are striking as many of them are centered on the desolate countryside. Nikolaus Summerer’s camera work is intimidating heightens the creepy mood. Even the handle of knife and spinning of an electric fan hints at something sinister. Baran has written the script, based upon a novel (by Jan Costing Wagner). He has handled the multiple characters and the convergence of story lines in an efficient manner. The flashbacks are well handled. It fleshes out the disturbing relationship between Timo and Peer.
Every performance in this film is solid and excellent, especially that of Ulrich Thomsen. Ulrich ("The Celebration"), a great Danish star plays Peer to perfection -- a monster, who is shy and polite. Klaussner gives an intriguing performance as the old cop who never quite stopped looking for the killer. He has played the role of a cold pastor in Haneke's "The White Ribbon." The supporting actors are top-shelf German actors, whose credits include excellent German films like "Goodbye Lenin!", "Soul Kitchen" and "The Baador Meinhof Complex."
The film unfolds deliberately at a slow pace, which emphasizes the psychological nuances of the murder and mystery rather than its procedural details. It is a little more clear-sighted about death, and the void it leaves in the hearts of their loved ones. When David asks Pia’s mother, when the pain of a loved one’s death does finally begins to fade, she reluctantly replies, “Never.” Many questions regarding the fate of supporting characters are left unanswered, but the main story, sustains enough of our interest, makes us overlook these things.
"The Silence" stands out among the heap of serial-killer thrillers. It ruffles our fears and offers us, none of the glib reassurance.
The Silence -- IMDb