PIFF 2022: Silent River – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 2 hours 1 minute, Director – Chris Chan Lee

While attempting to reconcile with his wife, Elliot (West Liang) meets mysterious figure Greta (Amy Tsang), who looks exactly like his wife and appears to be hiding something, in a desert motel.

There’s much within the opening expositional shots of writer-director Chris Chan Lee’s Silent River which sets in a feeling of entrapment. The opening long-shot tracking initial central figure Elliot (West Liang) as he drives through open, desert plains occasionally gazes at the sky. A sky which looks almost like a painting, as if Elliot is stuck in one, under someone else’s view and control. It matches up with the isolation of the motel room in which he starts to stay in while attempting to reconnect with his estranged wife over the phone – long shots show the area from each corner and further provide the feeling of being watched. It’s part of a slow build-up, settling in the idea that there’s perhaps a threat within the environment keeping the central figure in place, a thought which is expanded upon as we’re introduced to Greta (Amy Tsang), a mysterious woman who appears to look exactly like Elliot’s wife and alongside that seems to be hiding something.

As Elliot begins to try to learn more about Greta and what she might be hiding Lee’s film echoes vibes of David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake. Layers of mystery and ambiguity are created as various other genres are introduced and played around with, particularly those of a sci-fi and horror nature. The horror itself, particularly in lengthier sequences, may not always click, it’s generally quite hit or miss, however as the slight sci-fi nature is expanding it helps to push the mystery and level of intrigue the viewer has in the world that’s being established within the confines of the motel. While playing around with these various different tones and ideas Lee generally manages to keep a good balance throughout the film to help keep the audience engaged, and certainly not go overboard with anything – providing a consistent level of interest and intrigue in the unfolding revelations and events.

Most of these arrive in the second half of the film, where things are switched from ambiguity to a more direct narrative and set of events. This is also when the central figure appears to change from Elliot to Greta – making it easier to reveal various points and elements. An element of mystery remains within the piece, but one which is translated into threat within the futuristic aspects that are presented. It works within the slightly different flow and style of the second half, which manages to provide answers and progress the narrative further in a different way without feeling like a different film. It’s handled well and helps to keep you engaged within the unfolding strands and twists which are displayed within the obscurities and genres that make up the film.

Perhaps things don’t quite hold up in the final slow-mo infused stages, where things feel slight tangential compared to everything that has come beforehand. Alongside somewhat calling back to the opening stages, with things feeling somewhat uneven, although, luckily, the film avoids feeling as if it crashes into itself. There’s still a watchable and interesting nature to it, however it feels clear that the strengths lie within the central 80-90 minutes of the piece rather than the opening and closing 15-20 – where things are either being brought in and established or brought back to wrap up. But, luckily there’s plenty of mystery within the film and its well-balanced mixture of tones and genres. You can certainly tell its handful of inspirations, while never feeling that it gets bogged down by trying to reference or call back to them – successfully relying on its own narrative strengths and mysteries instead. Creating an interesting sense of ambiguity throughout to heighten the genre tones and drama at play within the confines of the limited setting.

While the opening and closing stages might feel slightly detached from the rest of the film, the majority of Silent River is a well-executed blend of genres which mix together to create a fine sense of ambiguity before a more direct narrative shift, largely in the vein of the likes of Under The Silver Lake.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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