Though visually moody and hypnotically paced, the movie contains such laughable dialogue and situations it can almost be taken as another comedy in disguise. It isn't, though. I think.
The movie opens with Dot (Belle), an orphan taken in by her godparents, Paul and Olivia (Martin Donovan and Edie Falco). Deaf and mute and not given to much social enthusiasm, she's scorned immediately by the family's popular blond cheerleader daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert). Dot has reasons for her facade of ennui. She lost her mother to cancer years ago and her father died recently in an automobile accident. He too was deaf, and evidently didn't see the truck that killed him. It's a little unclear how she knows what her father did or didn't see, and it's not the only problem of continuity and logic.
As "The Quiet" drifts on, it has a tendency to start blurting out bizarre little proverbs. In many of Dot's voice-overs, she talks about the meaning of life, as in, "One day we wake up and we realize the world sucks." As her foster sister's snarky best friend, Michelle (Katy Mixon), would put it, "Thanks a lot Deepak Chopra Winfrey."
Michelle and Nina don't come off much better than Dot. They are unlikable snobs, with foul, impertinent mouths hindered only by their limited vocabularies, and unfortunately for them, they had the same writer. Nina shows her contempt in ways that would make any sane parent roll on the floor in hysterics. Not Falco's pill-popping Olivia: "I was watching the news," she complains after Nina snatches the remote and hits up a music video channel. "Why can't we watch something that actually affects our lives!" Nina counters. Take that, Stone Phillips!
Around this familial miasma creeps Dot, doing a sort of Zen deafness. "You are a major enigma, Dot," Nina tells her, recalling the underwear pillow fight scene in "Valley Girl." This sentiment must appeal to shy teenage girls everywhere, all signing at once. But for the rest of us Dot seems conventional and trite, an outcast whose ostracism hoists her above the fray like a Yogi on a mountain top. From her elevated position, Dot observes the normal social posturing and buffoonery of the high-school set, along with more serious matters that take place after dark.
A few secrets we've seen coming a mile off are revealed, and Dot and Nina form a precarious alliance. Here Babbit might have saved the day by truly bringing the girls together, possibly learning something in the process. The opportunity is squandered. "The Quiet" is much too intent on being creepy to see any of its own potential.
But, you say, isn't the movie intended for the young, who can take an easy sentiment as a deep and meaningful insight? Babbit may have dashed this last bit of hope too, by filling her movie with extremely frank sexual and violent subject matter. It has saddled her with an "R" rating and might keep her intended audience out of the seats.
In the end "The Quiet" is too overtly trivial for any parent to fear. It contains a lot of vulgarity intended for shock value, but it's all too blown up and ridiculous to be shocking. The question nags: Could it in fact all be a put-on? Near the end, Dot drops a line that may stymie the answer for years: "People always talk about the quiet before the storm," she ponders, "but what about the quiet after the storm?" That's comedy in some form, anyway. I know, I know, thanks a lot Vincent Canby Ebert. (R) 87 min. ** S