Nearly a year and a half ago, I went on a movie binge and watched The Silence. My consensus was that the movie itself was pretty poorly executed with nearly enough plot holes to make me overlook how interesting the overall premise of the story happened to be. I had written:
Just like with Bird Box, I think the idea is interesting, but the execution of the film was just awful. I’ll be curious if the book does a better job.
I had recently taken a little time off around Thanksgiving, and since the ongoing pandemic means I couldn’t really go out and do anything, I spent a good bit of time at home reading. During that week, I managed to finish the novel The Silence, and I feel like I can safely say it was significantly better than the film.
The main plot hole from the film was just how a single, isolated cave system, even if it was relatively massive as far as caves are concerned, could house enough of the creatures to be literally overtaking cities. The novel elegantly addresses the development of the creatures by having Ally follow news of the creatures and their spread online while her family is attempting to flee to safety. She regularly follows official news reports, government statements, reports on social media, and compiles as much knowledge as she can while her family drives, and the novel’s end wraps that up as though Ally’s parts of the novel are her compilation. During her research, she finds several mentions of the creatures having a rapid reproduction and development cycle, where the eggs of the young are left inside of a kill so that they can eat upon hatching. The creatures are described as being born able to fly and further reproduce themselves, with theories that the oxygen-rich surface has significantly accelerated their development. Is that a reasonable explanation? I honestly have no idea, but as someone who knows nothing about biology it works for me and plugs a potential hole that the film left gaping open.
The novel also takes a much more reasonable stance on the ability of the creatures to hear that makes the situation the characters find themselves in difficult without being completely impossible. For example, when the family is hunkering down in a remote house, they’re able to do simple things like cooking and talking quietly without arousing the interest of the creatures flying around outside.
Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the portrayal of the cult which becomes interested in Ally. While cutting out your own tongue in order to be unable to speak is still completely insane (along with nonsensical since not being able to speak isn’t the same as being unable to vocalize sound), in the novel it’s at least a span of a couple of weeks before the cult is encountered. Even if it’s nuts, it at least seems a little better than going that drastic on the second day of the apocalypse. More importantly, though, the cult is interested in Ally not because “she’s fertile” like they were in the film, but because she knows sign language and can communicate effectively without speaking. That makes significantly more sense, and has an interesting effect through the novel where the family becomes mindful of hiding their ability to communicate via sign language from other people they encounter.
Finally, I found the conclusion of the novel to be much more interesting than that of the film. In the film, the family finds a refuge and it seems like they will be able to survive there; Ally is even reunited with her boyfriend (who isn’t actually her boyfriend in the film, but it wouldn’t be a campy American film without a love interest to go along with the Kumbaya ending.) The novel’s ending is much more open. Huw and Kelly are both badly injured from their final encounter with the cult, leaving Ally and Jude to lead the family. It’s heavily implied that Huw in particular has serious injuries but no way to address them. Ally has encountered the same information she finds in the film, which is that the creatures can’t tolerate the cold, but there’s nothing more concrete than that. However, the implication that what the reader has been experiencing is Ally’s compilation of their journey and her information on the creatures is extremely important. The novel ends with Ally’s note that there’s no longer any power, the Internet hasn’t been available, and that she’ll continue to carry the iPad she’s been using to document everything even though she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to power it on again to access the information she’s gathered. The fact that the reader is experiencing that information, though, implies that someone has been able to power the iPad again, be that Ally herself or someone who found the device. Regardless of Ally’s fate, clearly the electricity is working again somewhere.
Suffice to say, I found the novel The Silence to be a very enjoyable read. While the swapping perspectives of first-person with Ally and third-person for Huw is a bit jarring, I got used to it quickly and found it provided better insight and storytelling than solely seeing things from Ally’s point of view. I think anyone who enjoyed the film would benefit from this better telling of the story, and anyone who, like me, was disappointed by the film but found the premise interesting will be happy with the story as it was meant to be told. I think my next book will be Bird Box so I can see if that novel also overcomes my disappointment with the film.