'The Bay of Silence': Film Review

The Bay of Silence Still 1 - Vertical Entertainment Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
Slick and absorbing if a fraction underpowered.
8/14/2020

Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko and Brian Cox star in this mystery thriller about a man who learns startling truths about his wife after the birth of their son, when trauma from her youth resurfaces.

Dutch director Paula van der Oest, whose 2001 rom-com Zus & Zo was nominated for what was then called the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, has gone on in the two decades since to carve out a respectable career with well-received thrillers and romantic dramas. She brings unsurprising polished professionalism to the English-language mystery The Bay of Silence, even if it lacks the Hitchcockian command that might have given this story about the malignant power of buried trauma a more suspenseful edge. Still, the actors are a pleasure to watch and the European locations add atmosphere, making for solid enough adult entertainment that plays just fine on a home screen.

Actress Caroline Goodall transitions into the double role of screenwriter and producer on the adaptation of British author Lisa St. Aubin de Teran's 1986 novel. It opens with a black and white prologue in which a panicked teenage girl stashes a camera case in a cave on a rocky shoreline and then bolts, screaming hysterically when a guy around the same age reaches out to calm her. The contents of the case and the dark episode of what happened in the coastal house high on a cliff above the beach are the secrets that drive the plot.

The main action starts in Liguria, Italy, at the idyllic inlet that gives the film its title. Will (Claes Bang), who works with a design firm, and Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko), a photographer, are a couple at the height of their passion. This is conveyed with prurient insistence as they joke about having impure thoughts in a church confessional, salivate over the sexual imagery of a plate of mussels and indulge in some al fresco shagging against a rock in the afternoon sun. Ah, the Continent! Only Rosalind's rattled overreaction when Will scares her by disappearing underwater during a swim hints at her problems, though that impression fades when he asks her to marry him.

Eight months later, Will is carrying her across the threshold of their new home in the affluent London suburbs. She's heavily pregnant and while he's playing in the backyard with her 8-year-old twin daughters from a previous relationship (Lilibet and Litiana Biutanaseva), she falls from a broken balcony and is rushed to hospital. The baby, a boy named Amedeo, is saved, but Rosalind is deeply shaken, convinced she had twins again and that the death of one of them is being concealed from her.

Although Rosalind's stability remains in question six months later, she goes back to work in her home studio creating large-scale photographs that look like Francis Bacon X-rays. But when Will returns from a business trip, Ros, the children and their nanny Candy (Shalisha James-Davis) have all vanished.

Through a case delivered by courier, Will finds disturbing clues that lead him to a house on the Normandy coast, where a tragedy reveals the alarming extent of Rosalind's fragility. He also discovers how little he knew of his wife's past, as her mother Vivian (Alice Krige) cagily surrenders details while her former stepfather, Milton (Brian Cox), an upmarket gallerist who also handles Rosalind's work, is more evasive. "It's a tight-knit, self-preserving little community at the top," he tells Will, reminding him he's an outsider in their posh circle of artists.

It might be pushing it to say Goodall, based on her work here, has a future as a writer of sophisticated thrillers; even at a brisk 93 minutes, the material needs to be tauter. But her script gets the job done by seeding dread early on and nourishing it as fragments of the past come to light exposing the true cause of Rosalind's mental illness. The damage from childhood sexual trauma that steadily emerges is woven around her summers spent at the home of a famed photographer, now dead, who remains Milton's highest earner.

A number of plot elements possibly had more weight in the novel but here play like insubstantial distractions, like Will's pursuit of information from Becca (Hannah van der Westhuysen), a friend of Candy's who works as a table dancer at a men's club. Rosalind's fixation on twins amounts to nothing, and the resemblance of her photography to ultrasound scans seems to point to maternity issues that are false leads. The conspicuous info drop of Milton's antique firearm collection is an obvious tipoff to how the final faceoff will unfold, and the identity of the villain hiding in plain sight also is telegraphed too early.

There nonetheless are enough elements to keep you watching, not least among them DP Guido van Gennep's sleek widescreen visuals, with gothic-looking Scottish coastal locations standing in for Normandy in the noirish midsection.

Mostly, however, it's the actors who keep things compelling even when the plotting gets untidy. Cox, riding high from his Succession boost, brings glinting malevolence to an aesthete accustomed to the ownership that wealth and influence provide. Kurylenko packs plenty of raw feeling into her broken character, and Bang, the Danish breakout star of Ruben Östlund's The Square, offsets the suave air of an old-school European matinee idol with the gnawing fears of a man desperate to save his family. Even in a small role, it's lovely to see Krige, her brittle beauty summoning reminders of her dual role in 1981's Ghost Story, echoes that are not entirely inappropriate here.

Production company: TBOS Film, in association with Levitate Film, So What Pictures
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment (virtual theaters, digital, VOD)
Cast: Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko, Brian Cox, Alice Krige, Assaad Bouab, Lilibet Biutanaseva, Litiana Biutanaseva, Caroline Goodall, Gifs Scholten van Aschat, Shalisha James-Davis, Hannah van der Westhuysen, Duncan Duff, Maroussia Frank, Kristen Davies, Maximilien Frankel, Agni Scott, Emily Heyworth
Director: Paula Van der Oest
Screenwriter: Caroline Goodall, based on the novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
Producers: Caroline Goodall, Jason Newmark, Cheyanne Kane, Alain de Levita
Executive producers: David Gilbery, Charlie Dorfman, Dan Friedkin, David E. Smith, Patrick Beharelle, Sondra Eoff, Toby Eoff, Michael Benaroya, Todd Olsson, Kenner Bolt, Peter Garde, Richard Mansell, Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko
Director of photography: Guido van Gennep
Production designer: Harry Ammerlaan
Costume designer: Celia Yau
Music: John Swihart
Editors: Sander Vos, Paul Tothill
Casting: Sharon Howard-Field
Sales: International Film Trust

93 minutes