Silent Fear (De Reünie)
Netherlands (2015) Dir. Menno Meyjes
Should the past stay in the past? You might have some unfinished business that was left shrouded in mystery but maybe there is a reason it ended the way it did. Closure often helps in the long run but some things really need to be left alone and reopening those old wounds perhaps isn’t the best way to find out.
In 1995, a teenage girl Isabel Hardman (Daantje Idelenburg) suddenly disappeared which has troubled her best friend Sabine Kroesse (Thekla Reuten) ever since. Twenty years later, Sabine returns to work after a break due to a mental health issue, the memories of that event long since repressed, until she discovers an old classmate Olaf (Daan Schuurmans) is now working at the same firm.
Their friendship is rekindled and gradually turns into a relationship but seeing Olaf again revives those buried memories of Sabine as a teen (Marie-Mae van Zuilen) with Isabel. Sabine begins her own research into the incident which starts to cause her more stress and worry as well as frustration at not finding any new evidence, and a relapse of her paranoia when things between her and Olaf start to become strained.
Based on the novel by Simone van der Vlugt, Silent Fear is a slow burning psychological drama about betrayal, repressed memories, and simmering guilt with all the constituent elements for a compelling thriller but can’t quite piece them together. Maybe something is lost in translation from the novel but too many lose threads are left hanging by the time the abrupt ending arrives and we are none the wiser about half of what has gone on.
Director Menno Meyjes has quite the pedigree as a screenwriter with such prestigious titles as The Colour Purple, Empire Of The Sun and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to his name. Therefore, it is rather odd that this adaptation is so clunky and erratic in its pacing and structure, as though the salient bits have been omitted to fit the 98-minute run time rather than add twenty more minutes to tell the whole story.
Split between flashbacks of 1995 and 2015, the two narratives are barely recognisable as connected, creating the feeling that maybe for this film it might have been better told as a teen drama and bookended by the modern day revelation. Granted it is crucial to know what Sabine is remembering and why she chose to block it from her memory, but the caveat is not knowing if the flashbacks are for our benefit or hers.
For Olaf to return to Sabine’s life after 20 years is a contrivance we have to accept but is somewhat plausible, though the haste in which they become a couple is a red flag since Olaf is a bit of an arrogant tool. This means we are waiting for his mask to slip and reveal his true colours, which are hinted at in the flashbacks, but to what extent is part of that suspense.
It is a typically messy teen melodrama involving two close friends who do everything together until Isabel suddenly rejects Sabine one day. No explanation is giving except the split is preceded by Isabel freaking at Sabine putting a shotgun in her mouth in a mock suicide attempt. Now paired with the school princess Miriam (Lara Leijs), Isabel is party to extreme bullying which Sabine tries to shrug off but martyrs herself to, usually resulting in public humiliation.
However, things aren’t much better 20 years later as Sabine is the victim of sniping and pettiness from office head Renee (Margien van Doesen) – the difference is, Olaf is there to offer support when needed. Having been in therapy, Sabine is clearly a woman with esteem issue which is inherent to her nature, and like many victims of bullying isn’t comfortable about speaking up and asking for help.
Where things are cloudy is in the lack of content relating to this therapy that would help add some context to Sabine’s current mindset and her journey thus far in resolving her issues. I can’t say if this is covered in the novel, but it is one of the facets that would make this feel a more complete story, much like the history between Sabine and Olaf which wasn’t that close as the flashbacks suggests.
A story with such complex layers needs more than 98 minutes to unfold and build up the tension which it only manages in small doses, more’s the pity. This is related to the present day setting as Olaf’s predictable change in personality plays havoc with Sabine’s already fragile temperament, but comes across as overegging the pudding with the climactic reveal providing sufficient drama on its own – or it would have if the follow up wasn’t weak and nonsensical.
There are further examples of niggles that stand out, like poor introduction of characters in the modern day timeline, lack of competent police presence, scant clarity on Sabine’s teen crush on a boy named Bart and, most egregiously, Bart announcing the death of his hero Kurt Cobain one year after it actually happened!
But where the script is flawed, Menno Meyjes compensates with tight direction, superb cinematography – one particular shot of the beach at dusk is a heavenly tableau – and ability to coax great performances out of his cast. As Sabine, Thekla Reuten captures the nervous energy of someone with esteem issues, something gradually knocked out of her teen self as astutely essayed by Marie-Mae van Zuilen, in a show stealing turn.
For everything good about the acting and presentation, Silent Fear falls short of reaching its clear potential as a taut psychological thriller by seemingly telling only half the story, then rushing to the unfulfilling conclusion whilst forgoing the building of real suspense in between. Even without knowing the original novel as a point of reference, it is difficult not feel a little disappointed by this adaptation, best described as a tidy but sadly lacking movie experience.