The strength of Silent River is its visual style | 25YL

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silent river opens with a noticeably long take, over three minutes in fact, as its protagonist traverses a soulless desert. There’s nothing in front of him, and, as the camera slowly pans to his right and settles on perspective through the rear window, nothing behind. There’s no music, no dialogue, no ambient noise other than the hum of the engine and tires on the road: nothing to give any clue as to the mental state or destination of its protagonist. Where is he going or coming by car and why?

It wouldn’t be quite fair to compare the long hold that opens silent riverthe third feature from writer/director Chris Chan Lee, starring one like Orson Welles, the devious and suspenseful snake through a Mexican border town in Touch evil or the captivating and enigmatically static opening of Sofia Coppola Somewhere. Lee’s offers little narrative information and conveys virtually no emotion: it’s quizzical at best and a bit of a time-killer, a plan that takes some dexterity to pull off but only retards narrative progression.

West Liang as Elliott. Photo: Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

It’s only in the next scene that silent river beginning to outline its plot and adopting the tropes of a familiar genre as a driver, Elliott (West Liang) stops to reset at a roadside motel, where he phones his ex-wife, Julie (Amy Tsang ), with whom he desperately seeks reconciliation. But she’s moved on, she tells him unequivocally. From there, the drama is mostly confined to Elliott’s motel room, where he tends to his emotional wounds and drowns out his grief in a sequence reminiscent of Martin Sheen’s Saigon-sh*thole depression at the start of Revelation nowfilled with a ceiling fan otherwise The Doors.

Of the, silent river adopts, for the most part, the tropes of neo-noir: paranoid and obsessive. Elliott comes out of his downward spiral just long enough to meet Greta (Tsang, in a dual role) by the pool. She’s sort of Julie’s look-alike, and she has her own secrets, including, not quite coincidentally, an adjoining door to Elliott’s motel and a large, heavy cardboard box, just big enough to hold a human body. So: silent river has a doomed and temperamental protagonist tortured by his past and a sultry outsider with secrets of his own. Much of the film’s later action takes place as Elliott, intrigued by Greta, now hopes to learn her secrets even as he still yearns for Julie.

A close up of a woman on the phone in a dark room
Amy Tsang as Greta. Photo: Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

A film that from here explores the developing triangle between the three, evoking, as does the setting, its neo-noir contiguity with the usual game of double-crosses, revelations and labyrinthine twists that one associates with the genre. , would certainly work quite well. Yet there is more, and from here silent river takes another turn, now towards a David-Lynch-meets-black mirror surrealism: Greta’s box contains a lifeless body, but not a corpse. The content drives the film into sci-fi territory, where, frankly, its whole purpose and promise feels strained.

What is it, silent river? Its title gives few clues: there is no river, at least not literally. There’s a mysterious stranger by the wayside (credited as “The Stranger”) who imbues opaque incantations with Log-Ladylike darkness. The film wants to ask viewers to consider the impact of the past on our present, of our mind on our body, of our perception on our environment. But these are more loose threads than cohesive themes.

A bearded man wearing a cowboy hat stands along a desert road.
Dakota Loesch as the Stranger. Photo: Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

Lee’s film is shot with impressive panache, particularly in the desert scenes evoking a barren western landscape, a rugged and isolated America where dreams die, and in an array of visual flourishes and animations that convey the altered states of its characters. silent river is at its best outside of its American West where Lee can explore and experiment. Unfortunately, he spends more time cooped up inside in Elliott and Greta’s spartan motel rooms, where the main characters exchange lines of dialogue but no chemistry and little insight.

A man gestures ostentatiously, another watches passively, and a woman sips coffee at a motel breakfast table
West Liang, Max Faugno and Amy Tsang. Photo: Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

As it turns out, silent river feels like two, maybe three underdeveloped films in one. There’s a promising New Hollywood lovers movie, there’s seedy motel neo-noir, and there’s a sci-fi channel. Modified states through the acidic Western. Together, however, the film suffers from a lack of coherence, and its protagonists, no matter how hard they try, can’t quite pull the film together through its disparate, albeit promising, sequences.


After a successful festival, silent river will be presented in theaters on October 14 at Laemmle Glendale, then available on VOD from October 25.

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