As a culture, we frequently choose quietude. From “silence is golden” to “peace and quiet”, society has long nurtured the idea that quashing sound will achieve greater results than if we were loud. While this is true for moviegoers or students pulling an all-nighter, the notion doesn’t really apply to people in trouble. By that, those individuals ensnared in seemingly inescapable dilemmas. To be quiet in those situations is deemed illogical. Yet, a lot of the time, asking for help is admitting there is a problem to begin with. In the 2005 film The Quiet, we find a set of characters who all remain silent but for very different reasons. And in time, they come to realize that with silence comes chaos.
In Jamie Babbit’s indie thriller The Quiet, we enter a sullen, suburban scenario set somewhere in Connecticut. First up in this array of highly dysfunctional characters is Dot (Camilla Belle), a deaf teenager who became orphaned after her father passed away. Now, her godparents and their daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert) have taken Dot in. Although the patriarch, Paul Deer (Martin Donovan), felt obligated, his wife Olivia and Nina are less enthused. Dot is no fan of the arrangement either. Nina is a popular cheerleader at the local high school, whereas Dot is voluntarily insular much to the chagrin of her godsister and their peers. In spite of her self-appointed isolation, Dot manages to attract the attention of those around her. Particularly Nina, who is actively resentful, and a classmate named Connor (Shawn Ashmore), who finds Dot alluring.
Over the course of the film, Dot becomes an emotional outlet for the Deers and Connor. They confide in her, knowing that their innermost and oft loathsome confessions are safe with her. Or so they think. For all the time Dot became a sponge for everyone else’s secrets, everyone failed to realize she has one of her own.
Making Some Noise
After their script for “Dot” was selected for the 2003 Sundance Institute Filmmakers Lab, Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft searched for a director. As luck would have it, a friend of theirs brought the script to director Jamie Babbit’s attention. Intrigued by what she read, Babbit began the process of getting the movie made. Agents and producers were hired, and actors were attached; “Dot” was well on its way to becoming The Quiet.
The first actor to join the production was Elisha Cuthbert, who was, at the time, best known for the television series 24 and the comedy The Girl Next Door. She was set on playing Dot, but Babbit convinced her she was more suitable for Nina. Cuthbert agreed to the switch and undertook the task, which is perhaps her most challenging and rewarding to date. Thora Birch was originally cast as Dot, but she dropped out. This led to Camilla Belle filling the spot. Rounding out the main cast were Martin Donovan and Edie Falco as Nina‘s parents, Shawn Ashmore as the lovesick Connor, and Katy Mixon as Nina‘s best friend Michelle.
“The Quiet won’t be readily acknowledged as a horror movie […] The menace is more inward-feeling….”
Before shooting began, the cast was keyed in on the kind of film they were making. Meaning, they had to research abuse. This way, they could better understand what was in store for their characters and the core story. Having spoken to psychologists about the subject matter, Cuthbert was better prepared for her most intimidating role yet.
Funded by the University of Texas Film Institute, The Quiet was given a budget of roughly $1 million. As it was the first feature produced by the university’s Burnt Orange Productions, the crew was comprised of thirty-six UT students. Dr. Thomas Schatz, who was both the film’s executive producer and an executive director for the Film Institute, said the movie “was a tremendous learning opportunity for all the students involved.”
Austin, TX – Not So Weird After All
Like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Machete, The Quiet was an indie feature shot primarily in Austin, Texas. Filming lasted from September to October in 2004. Babbit found the locale refreshing because of the attractive pricing and the enthusiastic environment. She was overwhelmed by the support of the local businesses, too, as they were accommodating and “less jaded” when compared to people she had worked with in Los Angeles. For instance, restaurants offered free food to the crew.
Other than at the high school — which was really Bowie High School in southwest Austin — the majority of the film took place in the Deers‘ house. And when it came to finding a house for the maladjusted family, Babbit stumbled upon a million-dollar Austin property whose owners rented it out for fairly cheap. It had a faintly architectural, modern aesthetic balanced out by “suburban and mundane” elements, and the highly “shootable” kitchen allowed for a variety of angles. According to the DVD extras, a number of the house’s windows provided ample natural lighting, which is something Babbit is fond of when directing.
If there was one thing not desirable about the domicile, though, it was the outside. The excessive tree growth hindered the chance of any usable exterior shots. So, Babbit filmed the outdoor scenes at another house.
A Cool Reception
The Quiet premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, but it failed to secure a distributor. The movie finally found its way to Sony Pictures Classics, who screened it in three-hundred screens nationwide starting on September 1, 2006. Almost unanimously, the movie was subjected to scathing reviews. In particular, critics zeroed in on the film’s sordid nature. Entertainment Weekly referred to the film as “dank and rhythmless,” whereas The Seattle Times called it a “wretched drama.” Some reviewers were more forgiving as they translated what they saw on screen as camp — intentional or otherwise. The undeniably homoerotic undertones have convinced viewers the film is also a dark counterpart of Babbit’s heralded coming-out dramedy But I’m a Cheerleader.
Jamie Babbit had the opportunity to see the movie with an audience. She noted “uncomfortable laughter” throughout the screening, which some people might read as a bad sign. Immediately after, she was approached by viewers who related to the film’s content. Babbit was not surprised in the least by the faceted reactions to The Quiet; to a certain extent, the movie was a conversation starter.
Secrets make up a large part of the story in The Quiet. Aside from the overarching one that haunts the Deers, nearly everyone else we meet is harboring some deep-seated mystery. With the arrival of Dot, however, many characters have found a means of release. Nina‘s admissions run the gamut of body dysphoria to a muted malevolence innate to her relationship with her father. Her mother sedates herself with painkillers for a reason unclear until the end, and Connor suspects his adolescent urges are something more degenerate.
Dot herself becomes a make-do therapist for everyone. Like a therapist, she leaves room for the “patient” to speak and ruminate aloud. In doing so, though, Dot is guilty by association in more ways than one. By absorbing others’ assertions, she perpetuates her own deception. It’s both wily and taxing, especially for someone who has never processed her personal hardship.
The Quiet won’t be readily acknowledged as a horror movie as a number of the threats herein are not unique to the genre. The menace is more inward-feeling, not to mention dependent on others’ actions, or rather, a lack thereof. That being said, there is a colorable sense of apprehension that possesses the characters. Pushing aside the salacious and feigned facade, here is a fascinating tale about trauma and how one copes with it.
Enjoy The Silence
Jamie Babbit imagined fans of Heavenly Creatures or American Beauty would find something to like about The Quiet. In essence, all three movies share similarities concerning home life and murder. Upon release, Babbit’s film was ultimately deemed fruitless by the critics. They found the story preposterous and sleazy. This kneejerk reaction continues to this day, but, as a whole, society has become more open about abuse in all shapes and forms.
In concert, The Quiet exploits and epitomizes a taboo that most filmmakers don’t dare to touch. As a culture, we hope stashing ourselves away from a cruel world outside might bring solace, but being home is exactly what ails someone like Nina. Every time she steps over that threshold, she sinks back into a state of fear that speaks to viewers who may have come forward because of this film’s unflinching nerve.
“[…] a moody and gnarled psychodrama whose creators approach the inherent scandal with respect”
For those who find entertainment value in the movie, they do so whilst ignoring the fact that The Quiet is caught between being campy and serious. The dialogue suggests the former, but the actions and consequences are in the style of pressing melodrama that is heightened even more so by the use of HD video as a medium. Generally speaking, the film is a moody and gnarled psychodrama whose creators approach the inherent scandal with respect. Whether or not the movie as a whole will speak to you depends on your intentions and wants.
As of today, the film is slowly yet surely becoming a contemporary, indie classic. Perhaps for all the “wrong” reasons, but at the very least, fans will no longer have to stay silent on why they enjoy The Quiet so much.