More exasperating than the woebegone premise of Olivia West Lloyd’s feature debut is the experience of actually watching it all unfold. The film limps along, its images time-stamped and registered by our eyes but offering little else; the exasperation becomes one of self-loathing, as we look upon ourselves with tired resignation, trudging along an arduous path that tends to look the same as it did several minutes hence — and the same as it will several minutes later. Somewhere Quiet — about a creepy little vacation in the woods with the sense of reality vacuumed out of it — is a gaslighting drama with neither the gas to propel it anywhere nor the light to illuminate why any of it matters. In other words, it’s the modern indie genre film par excellence, stripped of virtue and shorn even of vice, leaving behind the skeleton of a synopsis to tick the checkboxes of virtue signaling and fill press screenings with dunces who couldn’t tell Hitchcock from Hereditary.
If this sounds harsh, it’s a gentler framing than that of the numbing exhaustion we’re put through and presumably meant to feel while watching the thing. Meg (Jennifer Kim), a Korean-American woman with frazzled hair and a serene countenance, has yet to fully process the traumatic experience of being kidnapped some time ago. To take things slow, she follows her mysterious (and white) husband, Scott (Sylvio and Strawberry Mansion’s Kentucker Audley), back to the forbidding countryside he calls home. They’re on holiday, supposedly, but of course, it doesn’t feel like it: Scott sleepwalks at night, eerie portraits litter the walls, and an old plate with an ominous message appears and vanishes right before Meg’s eyes. Stoking her paranoia is Madeleine (Marin Ireland), whom Scott introduces as his cousin. She barges into their bleak domicile, disarming Meg with aggressive pleasantries and probing anecdotes that unsettle her and prompt her to uncover some part about herself not yet brought to light.
The dynamics among this throuple deteriorate progressively — although “regressive” better captures the feeling of how the plot moves — to the point where we’re not sure whom to trust: Meg’s judgment, or the comfort of strangers. The film offers no reprieve, preferring to luxuriate in its perfunctory markers of victimhood laced with menace over explicating husband, wife, and Madeleine beyond the attributes of bad, sad, and mad, respectively. Ireland, as a sufficiently unhinged wine-mom type, is poorly cast playing-out a stultifying routine of cat-and-mouse with Kim, whose one-note helplessness. Meanwhile, Audley’s limp-dick shenanigans stretch the film’s credibility thin, since, despite his lack of appeal, he seems to persistently exert his hold over Meg. But what Somewhere Quiet gets most deafeningly wrong is its commingling of the social and the supernatural. Lloyd invests considerable effort trying to conjure otherworldly distress for her protagonist, only to retreat into pathetic he-said-she-said territory once the atmosphere wears off. It’d be irksome enough if we were genuinely oblivious to Scott and Madeleine’s antics, but the film’s suffocating glum dispels all doubt as to who the bad guys are, and so we’re left with the unenviable task of indulging Meg’s vertiginous journey from start to finish. Sounds compelling on paper? Perhaps, but Somewhere Quiet regrettably sands off its meager thrills, barely plodding along despite its dizzying screams.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 23.5.
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