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Silent Roar (2023) Film Review

two characters look at the horizon in the film Silent Roar

Silent Roar is an admirably poignant meditation on grief, religion, and the often ineffable connection between the two.

Denial is a natural part of life; it’s something that everybody experiences, and while it’s often talked about in the context of death and grief, the concept comes in many forms. As the crisp sound of waves leads into some stunning landscapes during Silent Roar’s opening scenes, it soon becomes clear that Dondo (Louis McCartney) is experiencing some serious denial about his father’s death – but as the film progresses, guiding the audience through Dondo’s everyday life with some breathtakingly intimate direction from Johnny Barrington, this deep-rooted denial seeps its way into other areas of his life.

As much as the film might try to hide it behind several light subplots and hints at romance, Silent Roar is very much a character study at its heart. The story follows a young adult named Dondo, who finds himself pushed away from his friends when he’s unable to accept his father’s apparent death at sea. But when a new pastor moves to his small village, Dondo finds himself caught in a whirlwind of religious uncertainty and repressed emotions that force their way to the surface. The film begins as a simple drama that uses its atmospheric cinematography and charming performances to drive itself forward, but Silent Roar quickly evolves into something much more thoughtful and personal once its real themes of religious disillusionment and teenage helplessness get a chance to shine through.

What works exceptionally well about Silent Roar is its narrative simplicity: while the ideas are complex and layered, the actual events of the story are always easy to follow and the stakes are never too high. The film flows like a visual poem, relying on sharp imagery of fire, water, and lightning to incite those emotions that you’d usually expect from an extensive monologue or heated argument. It truly proves that images are worth a thousand words, using the unique landscapes and elements of rural Scotland to draw the audience in and make them feel these characters in a way that words wouldn’t quite capture. That’s unquestionably Silent Roar’s strongest asset: its bold visuals never fail to shine.

a character holds a surfing board in the film Silent Roar
Silent Roar (Ali Tollervey / 2023 Edinburgh Film Festival)

The movie is also bolstered by two brilliant performances from Louis McCartney and Ella Lily Hyland, who plays Dondo’s close friend Sas. Their scenes together are all filled with genuine emotion, ranging from deep sympathy to even deeper laughter. It balances that border between tragedy and comedy so seamlessly, getting chuckles from the audience in one scene before bringing them to tears in the next. There are admittedly moments when this back-and-forth gets a little jarring, but that just helps place the audience even more securely in Dondo’s unstable mindframe. That’s another aspect that Silent Roar always gets right: through plenty of emotional close-ups, vulnerable conversations, and even some hallucinations, the film always frames its story from Dondo’s perspective and really lets the viewer into his mind.

The concept of denial is always at the forefront of Silent Roar, whether it’s Dondo’s refusal to accept his father’s death, his inability to actually be vulnerable with other people, or his attempts to make religion solve all his problems – everything comes back to his denial, and that feels like a very personal way to tell this story and make his often unpredictable actions seem authentic. However, Silent Roar sometimes attempts to tackle a little too much when it should be focusing on those central ideas that work so well. From the romance subplot that never leads anywhere to the dramatic ending that falls partly flat, there are certain plot beats that just didn’t feel necessary and only served to distract from its other successes.

If it weren’t for the pure watchability of these actors and the palpable chemistry that’s born whenever they’re together, this narrative distraction would’ve proved a much larger problem for Silent Roar. Luckily, even those scenes that ultimately don’t serve much purpose are still entertaining and fun to watch – but they still lead nowhere, and that leaves a slightly bitter taste when the credits roll. Besides that, Silent Roar is an excellent drama that understands exactly what makes the genre so powerful when it’s done right: personality, thoughtfulness, and forging characters that audiences genuinely care about.

Silent Roar premiered at the 2023 Edinburgh Film Festival in August.

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