Set is the city of Mujin which is introduced as being famous for its deep and frequent fog that can obscure vision, the story of Silenced presents the tale of one man who encounter the horrific and who must make a decision that while incredibly easy from a purely moral standpoint is fraught with pitfalls in reality when he discovers that the job working at a school for the deaf that he just landed is going to try his soul with the secrets hidden in its walls- and the danger may not be limited to his soul when he comes up against powerful people willing to use all their might and resources to keep things hidden away. The film follows Kang In-ho who has just found a job at a school for the deaf as he discovers this is likely to be far from a dream job when he initially is shaken down for a “contribution” to the school improvement fund but it is the odd behavior of his students that really catches his eye as they feel off, a condition he is initially told is due to their disability but as he spends time at the school he begins to suspect something more is up. When he stumbles across some physical abuse he decides to act but the depth of the abuse will shake him to his core. With so much against him is it going to be to much for him to protect these most helpless of victims?
The story told in Silenced is one that is powerful, visceral and often hard to watch as the director makes a decision to present the tale of events based off the novel by Gong Ji -young that was written to open the eyes of the public both the events that happened at the school as well as the failings of society that was unable to either prevent these horrific events or hold the perpetrators to (significant) accounting for their actions. In that regard the film comes across as manipulative (in the strict sense of the word, absent malice but with a definite purpose) in its presentation as it was designed to horrify and shock the audience and spur them into action and it served this purpose well as it got parts of South Korea’s population to take action and they forced the government to look carefully into the laws that existed both to protect potential victims from predators as well as to see justice was meted out if the protection failed. On a number of the levels the film is as subtle as a sledge hammer as it breaks over the audience with the full force that motion pictures can provide as many of the rape scenes are much more vivid than are generally presented when discussing the situation elsewhere and the film doesn’t pull any punches when demonstrating the effects that such crimes can have on children as the film opens with one victim committing suicide.
Adding another layer to events is the careful selection of child actors to play the roles in the film who bring an impressive degree of skill to the table as they show off the effects that the situation has on them from the abuse itself at the hands of their attackers to that which the justice system drops on them but also the quiet hope they have as they slowly open up to In-ho and then show a profound courage when they decide to take a stand in court and confront the attackers. It is largely on them that the film leans to collect some of its more powerful moments and which creates the greatest sense of unease and desire to right this wrong in the viewer. Unfortunately the adults in the picture aren’t given nearly as much to work with and many of them come across as almost stereotypes or cardboard cut outs due to how things play out. Yoo Gong in particular is difficult to grasp as the lead as he spends much of the film seemingly a bit flat in affect which leaves the audience without the reflection of its window into the events to rely on and it creates a bit of disparity to the events on the screen. While this helps underscore the points where he does finally get worked up it just feels like it just doesn’t bring a consistent weight to the story as he seems to be the same when confronted with the abuse as he is when so many around him are trying to pressure him to just walk away in a number of incidents. His co-star Yu-mi Jeong has it even worse as her character Seo Yoo-jin has few scenes and the first of those initially sets her up as someone few would rely on, particularly when her entrance paints her as more of the town drunk than a potential ally and an early scene establishing her character wound up on the cutting room floor. Beyond them though the actors playing the villains in this production are presented in such a way as to make one’s skin crawl from their introduction which likely does a disservice to reality as it does speed up the audience to get to disliking them and believe the worst but it feels a little hollow as many people who have these predilections, particularly those who hide as “upstanding citizens of the community”, are often incredible at masking the monsters within and it paints a bit of an off picture as to how they can be spotted.
Overall this leads to a feature that has the power to move one’s heart at the sheer horrors contained but it lacks an establishment of many of the characters that the audience needs to connect to and so it feels like a film that is strong in getting its message out but which isn’t strong looking at it simply from a film or story perspective. This feels like a shame as with a bit of a longer run time the film might have been able to create a presentation that hit an even stronger cord and which could have helped it stand out as a work on its own in addition to the powerful message that it sends with some basic fleshing out of at least its two adult leads and the lack of doing so helps muddle a good deal of the connection that the audience can do with them. Even with that taken into account though the film shines with its impeccable sense of timing when it comes to building up events as well as giving the audience a chance to breath before becoming overwhelmed that signal a filmmaker who definitely has more than a little skill at his craft and who can bring the most out the audience’s emotions.