On the way to their wedding in the countryside, the prospective bride and groom can’t seem to stop arguing with each other. Uh-oh.
Then there’s an odd little incident as the car carrying Laura (Jazmín Stuart) and Daniel (Esteban Bigliardi) arrives at the gate to the ranch where their wedding is to take place. A hat blows into the frame with Laura, she retrieves it and hands it to a young man, who leers at her before he and his friends drive away. She replies with the barest hint of flirtatiousness before resuming her bickering with Daniel.
The first scenes of Argentine co-directors Diego Fried and Federico Finkielstain’s The Silent Party (La fiesta silenciosa) give us a familiar thriller/horror situation, carefully laid out on a platter. It’s telling us not only that the intended are not particularly happy with each other, but that something sinister is going to happen to the young lovers. We would be absolutely astounded if it turned out otherwise.
Opening their film that way is Fried and Finkielstain’s acknowledgment of the challenge before them. Just exactly how do they intend to follow through on this introduction, pregnant with implied malevolence—or at the least, impending dramatic turbulence—that suggests the very same things as any number of other summer fright flicks that have come before it? In other words, what makes The Silent Party special?
All the ingredients are there for a cinematic orgy of violence. As set up by the filmmakers—working with the screenwriting team of Nicolás Gueilburt, Luz Orlando Brennan and Gianfranco Quattrini—Laura’s father, Leon (Gerardo Romano), owner of the sprawling ranch, is a blustery macho type (and a doctor, into the bargain) who likes to shoot beer cans with his Glock handgun. Further, Laura’s contempt for her future spouse and her father is visibly growing, to the point where she wanders away, on the night before her big day, across the pampa toward the sound of a party at the place down the road.
The neighbors hosting the earphones-only dance party are a who’s-who of stoned, irresponsible man-children on the prowl for cheap thrills, including the provocateur of the piece, a pudgy guy named Maxi (Gastón Cocchiarale), who likes to video stuff and post it on a group chat site. Laura gives in to the moment. Things happen, a reaction occurs, then a reaction to the reaction and the characters suffer.
If that’s all there were to The Silent Party, the movie wouldn’t rate much more than a yawn from wised-up foreign-film fans surfing iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, etc. We might reasonably expect different from Fried, a maker of hot-button, ultra-modern social studies with titles such as Wine and Flirt, and the similarly inclined Finkielstain, director of the comedy-club riff Love in the Time of Selfies (2014). They keep the story of Laura’s ordeal direct and blunt, with no detours for subplot, mixed motivations, character shading or any other distractions.
For her part, actor Stuart, a popular Argentine TV figure, hits the two notes she is asked to play, succinctly. There is no compelling reason to view the film as a lightning rod for heated arguments about rape or misogyny, or any other subtext. Composer Pedro Onetto’s string arrangements for his musical score are deft, decisive and nervous. They add a fleeting whiff of suspense to the narrative, even when that’s a luxury it apparently cannot afford.
The Silent Party, a trepidation derby with a few first-class production values, almost convinces us that there’s more in store for us there, somewhere beneath the surface, and that all we have to do is wait it out. Maybe in this next scene. And yet the implied promise of those virtues eventually comes to a complete rest and sits there in the grass, immobile and finally silent, like the leavings of a cow on a hot summer night. Hint: It’s the writing.