A young girl in a summer dress bikes down an empty road followed by a mysterious red four-door at the start of “The Silence.” It doesn’t take much detective work to know where this is going, the result being the horrific disappearance of young Sinnika. Eventually, her body is found dumped in the river, defiled but absent of evidence, though the movie has chosen us to see it’s in fact the work of wayward youth Peer, who gave in to his impulses as accomplice Timo sat and watched.
Twenty-three years later, it happens again: young Pia, a freewheeling teenage girl, has vanished in the same spot. The parallels are impossible to avoid, as authorities struggle to make sense of what separates these two cases. As the days march on, the failure to find Pia’s body gradually reveals a homicide that may be connected to Sinnika’s death, shaking up the lives of those surrounding both cases. The ambiguity of the title “The Silence” soon becomes a vexing puzzle, with the constant implication that the pieces might not exactly fit; even if they do, something will always seem awry.
Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) has never recovered from that day, even as he’s gone on to start a family under a new name. The similarities between the Pia and Sinnika cases strike a nerve, reminding him of the impulsive “friend” he’s left behind. The news reports lead him to seek out Peer (Ulrich Thomsen), with the temptation to restart their vaguely homoerotic relationship, borne out of a shared appreciation for Peer’s homemade child pornography.
Tensions flare up at the police department meanwhile, as officers strain to develop a connection between the two cases. The pressure mounts to find a body, particularly with one hard-boiled veteran still wracked by the loss of his wife. Spending nights alone, drinking while wearing her clothes, he pours over the details of each tragedy, developing a personal connection to the parents of both girls. His hard drinking and arguments with his supervisor sometimes threaten to push “The Silence” into “Law And Order” territory, but the film continuously pulls back from each sub-story to reveal a bigger emotional web that ties each participant in the mystery together.
Sinnika’s mother remains so haunted by the death of her only daughter that she spends every day jogging past the site of her death. But we see Pia’s parents are most shaken by their regret, wondering if they gave their hormonal charge just a bit too much extra freedom; her few moments of screen time involve her sassing her folks with teenage rage, but their final conversation ends with her leaving a fateful message on the phone, urging them not to worry because, “I love you both.” It’s both off-handed, delivered with casual insouciance but also half-phrased like a pleading request. Some distant teens embrace apathy, while others clearly make the effort to learn empathy, even if it seems clear they lack the necessary reasoning skills.
It’s those sorts of details that allows “The Silence” to rise beyond the level of a simple whodunit. The picture it recalls is Korean epic “Memories Of Murder,” which follows a decades-spanning murder investigation that seems determined to elude closure. The same existential frustration guides “The Silence,” particularly in how these parents start to relate to each other. The older couple know the damage has been done to their psyche, though their initial frustration regarding the Sinnika case boils over once again once they see the administrative failure that allows Pia’s killer to roam free. It emerges not from their own distrust of the system, but the futile desire to ensure another couple need not withstand what they did.
“The Silence” is directed with sharp precision and maturity, deftly balancing a large cast and refusing to give in to the station-to-station procedural aspects of the story. The emphasis on the varying, sometimes conflicting emotions of the case fortunately obscures some of the more TV-level elements on display, such as the poor attempt at de-aging Mohring and Thomsen with gaudy “young person” wigs, a touch that suggests a stretched-thin budget. But it’s a token misstep granted to an otherwise top-shelf murder mystery that examines the prices paid on all sides from the corruption of a pure life. [B+]