“The Silence of the Lambs” Movie Review

Another piece of progressive horror. I like it and want more. This bone-chilling horror thriller from director Jonathan Demme was released on Valentine’s Day in 1991, grossing over 14 times its relatively modest budget of $19 million. It went on to win the Big Five Oscars; Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Wait a minute: A horror movie released in February won a bunch of Oscars the next year? Could this be setting up for Get Out‘s potential success at award season?  Joking aside, the film, which went through a tumultuous pre-production involving the departure of star Gene Hackman, has been included on several “Best Of” lists. The American Film Institute even listed it as having the greatest villain in the history of American cinema. Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, which itself is a sequel to the novel Red Dragon, the story follows Clarice Starling, a young FBI recruit who is tasked with tracking down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. When no leads come up, she turns to the cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter for help on the case. Now with the abduction of a state senator’s daughter, they must race against time to find Bill while learning to open up to each other. This is one of those “classic” films that are extremely difficult to review because of two reasons. 1) So much of it has already been said by other people. 2) I want to review it with objective eyes, blocking out all preceding praise heard of for this movie. I hadn’t even watched the damn picture until earlier in the month. Thankfully, I managed to get my hands on the Blu-Ray while Halloween shopping and waited until I was alone at home in the evening to watch it. And my God… I barely have the words to describe how brilliant and intense this film is. To give you some context, I was watching the movie with a warm blanket wrapped around my person. From the first scene until the end, I held that thing up to my chin as the film built and built and built in its tension and anxiety. I never got up once to go to the bathroom, I never even got up to feed my own dog her dinner. As I became invested in the fascinating characters and the believable dialogue, I realized that Ted Tally’s screenplay completely made this movie into something beyond a disturbing thriller. No, it’s something far more subtle and intricate than that, although that element is really good. It’s really a character study of a group of broken human beings who need each other more than they want to admit. Now while the supporting cast of people like Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, and Anthony Heald all doing great work in their own complex roles, it’s the two leads that really carry the whole thing. I can’t think of a better Clarice Starling other than Jodie Foster. She’s strong-willed, determined, and incredibly smart, yet you can also see how vulnerable she is. But she’s practically dwarfed by her counterpart Sir Anthony Hopkins, who delivers one of the best performances of the 20th century. An astonishing piece of acting and insanely iconic, you can’t help but respect Hannibal the Cannibal’s character, despite being a true psychopath. When describing his own personality, he tells Starling, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”  Not just a plot-focused film, The Silence of the Lambs is also very impressive on a technical scale. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography makes excellent use of close-up shots that add something a little more uncomfortable to the nature of the characters. Thanks to the minimal lighting and rather singular color tones, the scenes feel and look more dreary and lived-in. The way that certain conversations or situations are edited by Craig McKay help to wring out even bigger amounts of tension from the audience. But the movie is smarter than to give a piece of shocking string jolts that are manipulated to be like terror. It sometimes will draw a single take out, leaving you to see when it’s going to cut. A full decade before he brought Middle Earth to life with his Lord of the Rings score, Howard Shore composed the soundtrack for this film. Using a full orchestra, each track creates a foreboding atmosphere that perfectly captures the brutal, all-too-real world the people live in. This made the film far more sinister and unsettling, which is saying something. But this continues a trend which I call “progressive horror,” in that it tackles a real issue through the vein of horror. In this case, it’s a woman proving herself in a male-dominated society. Not only is it her workplace at the FBI where she’s looked down on, but also the field. Her first visit to the mental hospital is marred by rude advances from the head doctor and particularly troubling patients. As more of Clarice’s backstory is gradually revealed through either conversations or flashbacks, we see how much trouble she’s dealt with in the past to now. And now, this psychopath may be her ticket to getting out. But he doesn’t flat out save her. Instead, he gives her just the right tools to break free all by herself and show her superiors, in both work and society, she’s much more badass and powerful than expected. Even on first viewing, I genuinely don’t have any problems with this movie. It’s essentially perfect in most aspects of filmmaking. The Silence of the Lambs is a twisted and ominous look at the duality of sanity and genius, with fantastic performances. Truly genius and taut in every conceivable way, how this led to two sequels, two prequels, and a T.V. series I still don’t understand. The original is destined to be studied for a long time for its contemporary contributions to the genre.

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