The Dark is more like it. In the new suburban psychological thriller The Quiet, the characters eat dinner in a palatial house where the lights are never turned on, they never seem to sleep, and they attend a high school that seems to hold classes between 6 p.m. and midnight. They spend so much time languishing in the shadows, you'd think you were watching a vampire movie.
If only. Instead, this tepid, would-be shocker is yet another variation on the "really dysfunctional family" genre made popular after American Beauty became a surprise hit in 1999. It takes place in a world where all the moms are doped up on prescription painkillers, the dads are incestuous monsters with no apparent source of employment and teenage girls have fouler mouths than porn stars.
The jam-packed storyline revolves around Dot (Camilla Belle), a mute girl taken in by her godparents in the wake of her single father's death. Though they seemingly "have it all," the upper-middle class Deers are more screwed-up than a family in a Tennessee Williams play: Mom Olivia (Edie Falco) is a near-comatose emotional wreck, daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert) is a vindictive cheerleader and dad Paul (Martin Donovan) is a lecherous creep. When Dot enters the picture, the family members and others at school begin using her as a sort of surrogate confessional, admitting their darkest secrets to her. Of course, Dot's troubled upbringing and knack for playing the piano suggests that the teenager might hear more than she lets on, and when Nina reveals her plan to kill her evil dad, Dot begins to take action.
But there are so many other things distracting the characters from the murder plot at the center of the film, it hardly seems to matter whether dear old dad will die, or whether or not Nina is really preggers with her father's spawn ("I don't want a baby with webbed feet running around the house, Daddy!"). If it took place in a stylized, satirical world akin to the cult classic Heathers, the ridiculous goings-on in The Quiet would be a little easier to take. Instead, director Jamie Babbitt's suffocating attempts at mood and atmosphere clutter up the already convoluted script. Among Falco, Donovan and other talented performers, only Cuthbert generates any audience sympathy, mostly out of pity: You can see the young actress trying to fight her way out of an unplayable role.
In the end, the film is redeemed only by dialogue so bad, it's awesome. When the school's resident rich bitch pesters her friend to lose her virginity, she puts it as politely as possible: "If you don't pop this thing before the end of the year, you're going to end up being a high school spinster!" When Nina talks of her murder plan, she takes a hot iron to a teddy bear, grilling it to demonstrate what she'll do to her dad. If only The Quiet were a little less pretentious, it could've been an unintentional laugh riot, a Valley of the Dolls for Generation Y.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].