Review: The Quiet

Dot (Camilla Belle, "When a Stranger Calls") is a deaf and mute teenager left in the care of her godparents (Martin Donovan and Edie Falco) when her father dies. Disgusted by her arrival is "sister" Nina (Elisha Cuthbert, "24"), a popular cheerleader who has troubles of her own when her father comes calling to her bedroom late at night. Taking her anger out on Dot, Nina sets the stage for revenge, while Dot finds herself climbing deeper into trouble with every new person who trusts her silence to disclose their darkest sins.

Well, it's far from perfect, but when was the last time you sat down with an HD-shot psychological thriller exploring the arenas of deafness, incest, and cheerleader payback? "The Quiet" (IMDb listing) might not have the tightest grip on its lurid plot, but I could appreciate its wizardry in the limited realm of confrontational art-house entertainment.

Breaking out with her lesbian satire "But I'm a Cheerleader" back in 2000, director Jamie Babbit marched right into television, honing her skills, but also suppressing her impulses for button-pushing storytelling. "Quiet" (also heavy with cheerleader imagery) feels like a coming-out party for the filmmaker, as this movie swings wildly in classic runaway-fire-hose fashion searching to find a tone the whole production can agree on.

There's no doubt that "Quiet" isn't for every taste. Babbit doesn't help matters any by switching genres every 15 minutes: moving from the opening high school bully-lite drama to a John-Waters level of sleezeball camp for the finale. Somehow, "Quiet" doesn't offend with its goofball scripting. As the picture gets wilder and the performances achieve a Telemundo-broad pitch, Babbit keeps this trainwreck engrossing, giving the actors plenty of space to explore the blunt and uninhibited sexual dialog they share with their walking confessional, Dot, as well as giving the eye a show with thick, colorful photography from M. David Mullen.

"Quiet" collects quite a handful of seedy, zoned-out characters, but no one in the cast looks to be having a blast quite like Elisha Cuthbert. One of the sharpest actresses of her generation, Cuthbert digs into the material with both heels, working Bambi-like sympathy as easily as her satanic leanings toward Dot. Cuthbert rides "Quiet" like a barroom bucking bronco champ, outlasting every quirky and sexually charged note the script serves up. Fueling her sisterly rage on Diet Coke and Sour Patch Kids, while caught in the middle of living hell with her pervert pop, Cuthbert makes "Quiet" more delicious than it has any right to be.

It's tough to say "The Quiet" is a good movie. By any standards, this is an unwieldy flick reserved for the more cinematically adventurous (and perhaps inebriated). But coming at the end of a very uptight movie summer, it's refreshing to be shoved face-first into the muck of provoking indie entertainment.

Filmfodder Grade: B