The Silencing is a thriller that centers on Rayburn Swanson (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former hunter who is determined to exact revenge on the person who kidnapped his daughter five years ago. Sheriff Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis) is also determined to find the killer after the recent discover of a dead woman in the woods.
The film’s moniker comes from the killer’s decision to permanently damage the voice box of his female victims. Rayburn Swanson’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) hunting acumen should aid him in his search, but his alcoholism and understandable depression serve as his ultimate downfall.
Sheriff Gustafson’s (Annabelle Wallis) loyalty to her troubled brother (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, nephew of Joseph and Ralph Fiennes) is a detriment to her investigation (especially when her sibling is a prime suspect!).
Director Robin Pront, who previously helmed the 2015 feature The Ardennes, talked to us about his passion for The Silencing and gave us an insight to the film industry in Belgium.
The Silencing is a thriller that really explores the humanity behind its characters. Was this character driven aspect to the story a huge reason you took on the project?
Yes definitely. My first film is a thriller but it’s also very character driven. What attracted me to this movie is it’s a whodunnit. (The Silencing is) a small town murder mystery but it’s also about these morally ambiguous characters who all have their demons to battle. It’s all about character. No matter what movie it is, you want to be attracted to these characters.
That was the thing, I really fell in love with these characters from the moment I read the script. So credit goes to the writer (Micah Ranum). He did a wonderful job.
It is a whodunnit, but this movie is a story about two people who are really trying to do right by the people they love.
Yes. The Sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) and Rayburn (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) they’re all battling demons and they’re looking for some kind of redemption. Rayburn is looking for his daughter but he also has a relationship with a surrogate daughter (Brielle Robillard) which is like the heart of the movie for me as well.
Sheriff Gustafson does questionable things in the movie but it’s out of love for her brother and the guilt that she feels. That is something that was really important for me.
Shooting this movie in Ontario, it seems you had a big canvas to work with. What was it like to find your shooting locations amidst all this wilderness?
The canvas is so big and you’re looking for these locations and it’s so spread out. I live in Belgium where you can drive around the country in two and a half hours. You can drive to Starbucks (and it will take you) two and a half hours in Canada.
The waterfall you see in the movie makes it look like it’s in the middle of nowhere. But it was next to a really big road where we could park all the trucks. That’s also important when you’re looking for these locations. You have to find something that is manageable.
The locations dictated it for us. If we wanted to shoot here, we would have to make certain sacrifices because (what would) take you two hours to shoot will take you four hours because we have to get there.
My review of The Silencing is featured in the latest episode of Find Your Film (at the 52:20 mark):
Director William Friedkin mentioned that he received a lot of his early film education as a director by watching Alfred Hitchcock films. Was watching movies a big part of your learning experience as well?
Definitely movies. My father was a truck driver who did transfer of VHS tapes and I saw a lot of movies when I was a kid. I think the movie that I saw the most in my life was Masters of the Universe with Dolph Lundgren. (laughs)
I swear, I saw that movie over 80 times and I could quote it scene by scene. I think the first movie that impacted me as a kid was Casino by Martin Scorsese. That was the first Scorsese movie I saw and it really impacted me.
The use of music and the way the voiceover worked. It became a real art form for me. Even directors now from my generation I can look up to like the Safdie Brothers and Jeremy Saulnier. Those are masters as well.
Can you talk about your verite approach to making The Silencing? There are immersive visual moments, but it seemed you really wanted to get to the truth of the story.
I have this baggage in me that I watch a lot of European socialist movies and I think it influenced (my approach) to a U.S. thriller. I thought that was interesting and hadn’t been done before.
Let’s try to recreate some of my work from The Ardennes and take that instead of trying to copy somebody else’s style. That was important for me. I didn’t want to do The Silencing to be showy or all that stuff – you’re right.
The idea was to get real close to the characters with the camera sometimes w/ a shoulder camera and then use a wide imagery of the scenery to contrast that. I also like to work with color. My movies are very dark, but there are always color in the image. The interiors of the bar and the archery (store) they are lit with a lot of color.
I love that in film. They can be dark but they can still be colorful.
How did Nikolaj and Annabelle approach their characters in The Silencing?
Nikolaj of course he is such an experienced actor. He’s done so many battle scenes, he knows where the light is, he knows everything. You don’t need to explain anything.
Annabelle does questionable things in the film and it was important that the audience doesn’t lose connection with her and you relate to her. That was something that she carried so well in this movie.
You’re still rooting for her, despite everything. That was really important for me. Annabelle is a pretty relaxed and funny lady. When you watch this film, it’s so dark and you might think the atmosphere on the set is bleak. We had so much laughter.
We made this U.S. film but it’s directed by this Belgian guy, starring this Danish actor and British actress. It’s funny.
What type of advice do you give to fellow filmmakers? Also, what is the film industry in Belgium like general?
The Belgian industry gets a lot more complex than that. Because you have the Flemish industry. They speak Dutch. And then you have the French speaking side.
They are two different industries. Here in Belgium we have a lot of interesting directors like Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah – they did Bad Boys for Life and they were my classmates. Then you have Michaël R. Rostrom who did Bullhead and The Drop and he was my teacher in school.
So it’s crazy. We are all in a career path now but we all sat in a cafe next to each other. The last 10-15 years of what is happening in Belgium (film-wise) is a very good thing.
Of course on the French speaking side you have the Dardenne Brothers who are one of the biggest independent filmmakers in the world. It’s definitely interesting.
Stand your ground. Stand with your passion because it’s a difficult world. It’s a business and for me it’s important because it’s tough making a film. Sometimes I need to watch a movie to remind myself why I love it so much because sometimes it becomes a business.
It’s important that you never forget why you’re doing it; for a love for the arts. It’s something that sometimes I have to remind myself, you know?
Thank you so much and I really enjoyed your film.
Thank you. Bye bye!
The Silencing is now playing in theaters and is available on Digital and VOD.