Don't expect peace from "The Quiet"

Sept. 6, 2006, midnight | By Laura Mirviss | 14 years, 4 months ago

Novice director Jamie Babbit explores the tragic experience of incest

Nina Deer (Elisha Cuthbert) appears to lead the perfect life. She is a popular, gorgeous blond on her high school cheerleading team. But Nina has a secret, so explosive and so personal, that only her father knows its depths. Because each night, it is Nina's father (Martin Donovan) who slips into her bedroom to have sex with her. It is around this jarring premise that director Jamie Babbit molds her film. Reminiscent of 1999's "American Beauty," "The Quiet" details the horror and tragedy of child molestation.

Nina explains, "I love him and I hate him...I hate it when he doesn't let me do what I want, but I love it when he [has sex] with me." These twisted and depraved character relations help mold the film into an artful and moving tour-de-force. Intensely powerful, "The Quiet" leaves you wondering how something so perverse can so easily happen in those late hours, in the middle of the night.

The movie opens as a run of the mill, teen chick flick. Cheerleaders are gathered around a lunch table, sipping Diet Cokes. Dot (Camilla Belle), who is deaf and mute, sits alone at a lunch table. The cheerleaders gossip about Connor (Shawn Ashmore), a star on the high school basketball team, as Dot watches the cheerleaders with forlorn eyes. Just as the audience begins to believe this movie is about typical high school angst, the meat of the movie reveals itself.

After the recent death of her father makes her newly orphaned, Dot comes to live with her godmother, Nina's mother (Edie Falco). But Olivia Deer, who seems like the perfect housewife, has her own problems to deal with, including an addiction to prescription drugs. Every night, she passes out after a cocktail of Vicodin and other euphoria inducing drugs. In contrast, Paul Deer seems to be the perfect parent. He enforces bed times and homework, discouraging his daughter from dating and staying out too late.
Meanwhile, Nina is furious that the Dot has come to live in her home. She complains,"[Dot] can't even hear. She can't even speak. She's like a dog or a cat or something." Dot simply shrugs off her new sister's frigid welcome, though it is clear she misses her deceased father when she pulls his ashes from their box, presses her fingertips into his remains, and licks his ashes off the tips of her nail beds.

The gravity of the subject matter is complemented by the superb performances of the primary actors. Elisha Cuthbert's portrayal is especially notable. As Nina, she faces the enduring question of who her father really is. This inner conflict allows for a performance ripe with vulnerability and sensitivity. She simply cannot understand why this male authority figure does not treat her like a normal kid.

Dot soon learns of the horror that occurs between father and daughter each night. Shocked, Dot realizes the reality of the seemingly ideal suburban home she now lives in. Over the course of the film, Dot comes to form an intense bond with Nina as she helps her friend cope with her depraved predicament.

In a tale of family dysfunction to the extreme, Babbit blends intense close-up shots of facial expressions with landscape pans that display the family from afar. This style conveys the message that unfocused, outward appearances may deeply contrast with what a family is truly experiencing. For instance, the wide-angle shots of the large, luxurious living room and kitchen juxtapose the horror occurring within Nina's bedroom.

Deeply unsettling and leaving no room for subtlety, Babbit also creates memorable and believable characters. For instance, in a spare moment at work, Paul Deer calls his daughter to ask her if she is clad in her cheerleading outfit -- the obvious lust of father for daughter is hard to stomach. In turn, Nina's nonchalant response, lying to her friend that it was "her mother on the phone, just being needy again" is similarly as haunting.

Though not a film for the light-hearted, "The Quiet" is an intense drama that is worth the painful ride.

"The Quiet" (96 minutes, selected release) is rated R for strong and disturbing sexual content, a scene of violence, language, drug content and brief nudity.

Laura Mirviss. Laura Mirviss is far more excited than she should be about being on the Chips staff this year. She loves field hockey, lacrosse, The New Yorker, and Ben and Jerry's. When trying to keep things in perspective, Laura likes to remember the words of Ferris … More »

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