'Silent Panic': Film Review

Indie Rights
More like a silent snooze.
7/5/2019

Three friends on a camping trip discover the dead body of a young woman in the trunk of their car in Kyle Schadt's thriller.

Writer-director Kyle Schadt has come up with a very promising premise for Silent Panic. At the end of a camping trip, three friends discover to their horror that the dead body of a young woman has been placed in the trunk of their car. It sounds like the plot of a classic '50s film noir, but the movie squanders its potential with a lackluster approach that sacrifices thrills for uninvolving character study.

The filmmaker gets one nagging question out of the way early; namely, why the men wouldn't simply immediately report the body to the authorities. Here, it's because the car's owner, Eagle (Sean Nateghi), is an ex-con desperate to avoid trouble with the police. And he's not just any ex-con, but rather one who was actually innocent of the assault and robbery charges of which he was convicted. So his paranoia is at least credible.

Eagle manages to persuade his dubious friends Bobby (Joseph Martinez) and Dominic (Jay Habre) to let him take charge of the situation. He brings the car home while he figures out what to do with its horrific contents. When he arrives, his wife Robin (Constance Brenneman) innocently asks him, "Did anything interesting happen?" It's an example of the far too on-the-nose dialogue that telegraphs every plot element.

It would be nice to report that things get more suspenseful from there. Unfortunately, they don't. When Robin unexpectedly takes the car shopping, Eagle is forced to frantically chase after her on his bicycle. He manages to catch up with her just in time, but the ensuing scene in which he anxiously spins a series of lies to prevent her from opening the trunk proves almost comical in its implausibility. Even worse, it's dragged out to such length that you begin wondering if either or both of them have a learning disability.

Eagle's not-so-brilliant scheme to avoid culpability involves intentionally abandoning the car to be stolen. The ensuing complications, which could have worked either as thriller or dark comedy, are instead merely tedious. But not as tedious as the screen time paid to the main characters' personal struggles, including Dominic's romantic relationship with a young co-ed, and single dad Bobby's struggles to maintain an air of normalcy for his young son and avoid relapsing into cocaine addiction. The latter subplot results in a bizarrely comic scene, in which Bobby visits his eccentric former dealer (Jeff Dowd), that feels like it belongs in another movie entirely.

Other than the occasional moment, such as the men reflexively slamming the car trunk after seeing the body as if somehow to wish it way, the film never feels convincing, beginning with the strained opening scene in which they banter, Tarantino-style, about such things as the best incarnation of the band Genesis, whether "Broadway Joe" refers to quarterbacks Namath or Montana, and the proper spelling of the Medicare term "donut hole."

Dominic is a writer by profession, allowing the opportunity for him to provide stilted narration via entries from his journal. By the time one of the characters brings the body into his home and puts it in the bathtub, the proceedings threaten to lurch into Weekend at Bernie's territory. Finally, there's the ending, which strains for the sort of irony that's often a significant element in noir thrillers but is executed here in such lackluster fashion that it barely makes an impact.

Production company: Viral Man
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Sean Nateghi, Joseph Martinez, Jay Habre, Constance Brenneman, Juliet Frew, Helene Udy, Jeff Dowd
Director-screenwriter: Kyle Schadt
Producers: Kyle Schadt, Jordan Rennert, Amanda Sonnenschein
Executive producer: Patrick Meaney
Director of photography: Jordan Rennert
Production designers: Mel Huffman, Valeria Ramos
Music: Field Observations
Editor: Kyle Schadt

96 minutes