My notes on Silent Panic, which is out now on US digital platforms.
This low-key drama of very bad decisions falls roughly into the ‘what to do with the body?’ sub-genre of The Trouble With Harry, Very Bad Things and Body, and also taps into the fractured friendship theme of such shaggy dog stories as Shallow Grave and A Simple Plan – the unusual aspect being that this opts for oddly credible foolishness rather than escalating into farce-cum-melodrama.
Dominic (Jay Habre), an aimless freelance writer, spends a night camping in the wilderness with his longtime friends Eagle (Sean Nateghi) and Bobby (Joseph Martinez). They have both come back from severe life setbacks – a year in prison due to an apparent miscarriage of justice, a spell of cocaine addiction – and focus on relationships they believe keep them on the straight and narrow – Bobby with his young son, Eagle with his supportive girlfriend Robin (Constance Brenneman). The next morning, the trio get back to Eagle’s car and find a female corpse (Cade Daniel) in the boot/trunk. Eagle doesn’t want to call the cops because he thinks he’ll be fitted up again, Dominic doesn’t want to touch the body and get his DNA on it, and Bobby starts panicking … so they drive back to the city with the body still on board, squabbling over what course to take. Eagle’s big bright idea is to get his car stolen so that when it’s recovered the corpse will be someone else’s problem – but that doesn’t work out, in several believable ways.
Rather than concentrate on the plot mechanics, writer-director Kyle Schadt follows the three variously feckless, agonised, not-unfeeling characters in their increasing desperation – as their friendship, and the relationships they prize, is strained by the big secret. Though one of the three does do something appalling at one point, for the most part they just get more and more irritable and undecided, with Eagle’s rage, Bobby’s old cravings and Dom’s indecision overriding every chance they have to do any right thing. They know that every day they don’t go to the cops, the situation gets worse for them – and they are even troubled by guilt over how the family of the woman they don’t know are feeling even as they try to cover their own asses. Typical of the hard-luck twists is an excruciating sequence where a jittery Bobby hits up his old dealer (Jeff Dowd) to score only to find him with a new hippie-dippie girlfriend who’s persuaded him to quit the business, and then having to endure a friendly lecture on getting into rehab even before he’s fallen off the wagon.
It’s a guy-focused film, and the women in their lives are all shrewder and more moral than the leads, but it’s not an exercise in simple misanthropy, since part of the problem – even, as it turns out, for the murderer – is that they can’t bear to do the absolute worst thing and simply settle for the stupidest, always putting off the problem. It has a muted, washed-out look appropriate for the tone of script and acting.
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