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Project Silence Review: Absurd Canine Carnage

A woman with a red and black jacket holds a small white dog and looks ahead, with people and wreckage behind her, in the film Project Silence

In the playfully ridiculous Project Silence, the late Lee Sun-kyun battles militarised hounds on a foggy Seoul bridge.

Director: Tae-gon Kim
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 101′
US Release: July 12, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in theaters

It’s hard to ignore the shadow that the death of Lee Sun-kyun, best known to western audiences for his role in 2019’s Parasite, casts over Project Silence, one of his final film appearances. And yet, thanks to his charismatic performance and a premise so daft you can’t help but play along, the film is quite the romp.

Lee plays Cha Jeong Won, an adviser to a high-ranking politico who, while driving home with his daughter (Train to Busan’s Kim Su-an), becomes trapped on Seoul’s enormous Incheon Grand Bridge after a major car crash. Enveloped in fog and with the increasing sense that there is something else at play, Jeong Won is joined by a motley crew of characters as they attempt to escape the quarantined bridge. In doing so, they discover that among the grounded vehicles is a military van transporting the product of a secret government programme known as the ‘Silence Project’ – in a strange inversion of the film’s English title. What exactly is inside the van, you ask? Why, genetically modified killer dogs, of course.

The premise of the film is one of those fork-in-the-road moments; you’re either on board or you’re not. Those willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride are swiftly rewarded with a thriller as tense as it is silly, no more than a single step higher on the intellectual ladder, nor one lower when it comes to fun-factor, than Snakes on a Plane. With director Kim Tae-gon prioritising practical effects for much of the film, aside of course from the CGI dogs, its visuals are pretty impressive; the early car crash scene has some real bite to it. Being so central to the plot, the digitally rendered hounds were always going to make or break a thriller like this, and while there are a few schlocky moments, for the most part the attention to detail put into their anatomy and movement is adequately convincing, especially when things get grisly.

Two scared people lean against a car looking to their right in the film Project Silence
Project Silence (Capelight Pictures)

Entertaining though it all is visually, what fragments of a plot exist are fairly predictable. When we are introduced to Jeong Won we instantly see his ruthless political side and disregard for human life, so it’s hardly surprising when his personal arc and the father-daughter dynamic develop the way they do, his role as the leader of a group of survivors as they navigate the blood-thirsty canine-infested bridge gifting him a new perspective on life, love and family. Kim Hee-won’s turn as the nutty professor behind Project Silence allows for a slice of Jurassic Park-esque moralising, but the ethics and politics of the story enjoy little more than a light smattering. The film can’t survive on action and comic relief, of which there is a lot, alone and the second act suffers from a lack of real substance.

Nonetheless, it’s all carried by a solid cast of various generations that adds colour to an at-best unremarkable palette. The final word must go to Lee Sun-kyun, whose devastating death by suicide as the age of just 48 is a true loss to the world of cinema. As the film’s lead, he is every bit as charismatic and noble as he was detestable as the snobbish tech entrepreneur in Parasite. Fine though the supporting actors are, there is no Project Silence without a performance as commanding and compelling as his, and with his major worldwide breakthrough coming just five years ago with the aforementioned Bong Joon-ho movie, we are left only to wonder what could have been.

Fun, thrilling and quite frankly ludicrous, Project Silence won’t be joining the ranks of classic South Korean thrillers – of which there are many – any time soon, but if you’re willing to switch your brain off and crack out the popcorn, you could do a lot worse than this. With a tense, claustrophobic setting and some nifty action set pieces, this tale of canine carnage is barking up the right tree.

Project Silence will be released in US theaters on July 12, 2024.

Project Silence: Trailer (Capelight Pictures)
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