After her father dies in a car accident, deaf-mute teenager Dot (Camilla Belle) is sent to stay with her godparents Paul (Martin Donovan) and Olivia Deer (Edie Falco) and their daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert). Blonde, beautiful and bitchy, Nina makes high school difficult for Dot on a daily basis. Until one night when Dot overhears Nina being sexually abused by her father. Shortly thereafter Nina discovers Dot has faked being deaf and mute all along, and taunts her by revealing a plan to murder her father.
The Quiet quietly sank without a trace, dismissed by critics as either morally reprehensible or else a potential camp classic. Despite dealing with the taboo subject of incest and child abuse, the film frequently lapses into unintentional humour as when most characters bellow at the top of their voice when talking to Dot. A silly script, co-written by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft, is treated with grave solemnity by a willing cast, while normally capable players like Edie Falco and poor Shawn Ashmore (as a dumb jock who fumbles his clumsy courtship with Dot) are stuck with all the worst lines. In Ashmore’s case, a toe-curlingly awful monologue about his masturbatory habits.
And yet Jamie Babbitt, director of the underwhelming lesbian teen comedy But, I’m a Cheerleader (1999) and an array of episodic television from Malcolm in the Middle to Gilmore Girls, conjures a certain claustrophobic tension. His striking, blue-filtered visuals ably convey the chilly, empty lives led by the characters.
Camilla Belle and an atypically edgy Elisha Cuthbert are both strong and seize their roles with the determination of starlets sick of being typecast. The growing bond between these two tortured girls is expressed in an artful and subtly acted manner that rises above the mire of otherwise crass characterisations. Nasty cheerleader Michelle (Katy Mixon) in particular has seemingly strayed from teen comedy, although she becomes the worthy recipient of the mother of all putdowns, delivered with relish by Elisha.
Where the script does succeed is in portraying the conflicted emotions suffered by some victims of parental abuse. Nina is simultaneously repulsed by and deeply loves her father. She both loathes their physical intimacy and cherishes the small amount of affection thrown her way. An aspect that Paul, who stays vulnerably human enough to avoid sliding into monstrous caricature, capitalises on to a distressingly believable degree. All that said, Cuthbert fans may derive a certain guilty pleasure in hearing the erstwhile Kim Bauer talk dirty. Click here to watch a clip
There are some good things bubbling beneath the mire and two-thirds of the way through this limp drama suddenly sparks into life. In spite of all the crudity and silliness that went before, the darkly poetic finale retains a modicum of power. Click here for the trailer