A young woman is unwittingly drawn into a sinister cult-like group in A Certain Kind of Silence, the debut feature of Czech writer-director Michal Hogenauer. Inspired by real events, this beautifully composed psychological thriller has some of the eerie domestic-horror feel of The Handmaid’s Tale or Rosemary’s Baby in places. Following its world premiere on home turf in Karlovy Vary this week, Hogenauer’s glossy-looking Czech-Dutch-Latvian co-production should enjoy a healthy festival run, with a good shot at theatrical action thereafter. Commercial prospects will be boosted by genre-friendly plot elements and mostly English-language dialogue.
A Certain Kind of Silence opens with twenty-ish Prague native Mia (Eliska Krenkova) arriving at an upscale suburban home in a non-specific European city to begin her new job as an au pair. The house is a pristine minimalist fortress, elegantly finished in pastel watercolor shades, its chilly elegance mirrored by its impeccably groomed owners. Mia’s employers, credited simply as Mother (Monic Hendrickx) and Father (Roeland Fernhout), make it clear she is on temporary trial, her future prospects resting on how well she bonds with their 10-year-old boy, Sebastian (Jacob Jutte).
Hello darkness, my old friend.
Before long, Mother and Father start to undermine and remold Mia in psychologically subtle ways. They routinely invade her privacy and take an overly intrusive interest in her diet, social life and communications with the outside world. Initially co-operative, Mia finally rebels when she is forced to subject Sebastian to ritual beatings, apparently for general discipline rather than specific punishment. But as a stranger in a strange land, cut off from family and threatened with losing her job if she protests, her defenses soon begin to weaken. Her life becomes a kind of 24-hour Milgram Experiment, where unquestioning obedience to authority takes precedence over personal ethics. A moral surrender which leads, of course, to some very dark places.
With its artfully muted Scandi-chic color palette, painstakingly framed architecture porn and almost subliminal drone-driven score, A Certain Kind of Silence is a gorgeous aesthetic experience. Although some of the English-language dialogue feels a little clunkingly translated, the eerily vague no-place setting adds extra emotional weight to Mia’s sense of dislocation, with Dutch actors speaking English and German in an unnamed city which is actually Riga, capital of Latvia. Hogenauer builds slow-burn suspense with forensic precision, eschewing the jump scares and dramatic crescendos of more conventional horror movies. Even so, his understated finale still packs a chilling punch, hinting at terrible off-screen crimes.
Hogenauer saves his biggest twist for the final credits, where onscreen captions reveal the true story behind A Certain Kind of Silence. No spoilers here, but this shift away from dystopian fantasy may irk some genre fans who prefer the imaginative freedom of broader allegorical interpretation. The rest of us will scurry to our search engines to sift fact from fabrication, only to learn that a disturbingly high number of the creepy events depicted here actually happened in real life.
Production companies: Negativ, Circe Films, Tasse Film
Eliska Krenkova, Jacob Jutte, Monic Hendrickx, Roeland Fernhout
Director: Michal Hogenauer
Screenwriters: Michal Hogenauer, Jakub Felcman
Producer: Petr Oukropec
Cinematographer: Gregg Telussa
Editor: Michal Reich
Music: Filip Misek
Art Director: Laura Dislere
Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (East of the West Competition)
Sales: Negativ, Prague