Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
The only movie I can really compare Silent Fall to is Mercury Rising with Bruce Willis, which I have seen several times and never tire of it and have yet to sell my copy. I now regret selling my copy of Silent Fall since Ben Faulkner plays the non-verbal autistic child Tim quite accurately. It is kind of freaky how both children in these movies resemble my own non-verbal son. Luckily the viewer does not have to witness the murders that take place in the parent’s bedroom.
Silent Fall rated R - begins in the aftermath at the residence with Tim holding the knife which is presumed to be the murder weapon. The eighteen year-old sister Sylvie is portrayed by Liv Tyler, and hiding in her closet, apparently attacked by the intruder. Supposedly she was shopping at the mall and came home while the murders were taking place.
Law enforcement has enlisted the assistance of a psychiatrist played by Richard Dreyfuss, who immediately informs them the child is autistic and sends one of the officers around the house in search of a deck of cards. At first Jake runs out not wanting to get involved with the case, but a moment later enters the house and is able to render the knife away from Tim.
Since the sister is eighteen the issue of who will take care of Tim is never really addressed, although they did stay with some relative for one day, but the incident at the dinner table resulted in Tim tearing up the kitchen. Sylvie had explained quickly to the parent in the kitchen that Tim did not like round foods so she removed the peas from his plate. When Sylvie turned her back the two girls who resided in the house took their peas and tossed them onto Tim’s plate. The looks the mother and the girls were giving to both Tim and Sylvie was distressing to see, but not uncommon for long-distance family members to not comprehend autism and the issues surrounding the disability.
Although there was still yellow crime scene tape around the house Sylvie and Tim headed back home. This one officer had a small role that really did not serve any part and never explored, but I kept waiting for his character to evolve. The murder investigation was not really involved since the weapon used was never really discussed and I do not recall them saying where it came from. The one point that was made in a rather strange way was that the knife had no prints whatsoever. They concluded that Tim was not capable of wiping away prints.
The first night that Tim and Sylvie slept home she woke up to find Tim not in her bed. My heart skipped a beat because they showed the window open and I had no clue which way this mystery/drama was going to turn. It made no sense for her to leave the window open after a murder had taken place in the same place. Luckily Sylvie quickly found Tim lying on the spot where their mother had been killed. The police did mention that nothing else was removed from the home, therefore a botched robbery was out of the question.
I believe this was the first role for Liv Tyler, and her acting was quite rigid at times with no real facial expressions or hints of sadness at the loss of her parents. You could tell the compassion for her brother, but this was by the tone in her voice at times it became higher pitched.
John Lithgow plays Dr. Harlow who uses drugs on patients and is not a friendly type of Doctor. There is some connection between the two Doctors and the Sheriff. A few times Jake brings up the past incident where a former patient who was also autistic and non-verbal committed suicide by jumping in the lake at Jake’s residence. It was not fully explained, but from what I gathered this is where it took place. At one point Jake is discussing this child, Billy, with his wife. Linda Hamilton is a lawyer who has a small supporting role. She is instrumental in getting Jake to take on Tim as a patient.
Before Tim starts one on one therapy with Jake at a cottage style house on his property we see Sylvie take Tim to a special school. The students there all appeared to really have disabilities. This scene was nice to show the school environment but it lacked anyone showing empathy for Tim or Sylvie on the loss of their parents. Another issue I had with the teaching of Tim was that no communication system was ever used or discussed. Jake seemed to use a deck of cards as a way of communicating with Tim and they lost the opportunity to show real communication issues with children on the autism spectrum.
There was an interesting segment with Sylvie at the library looking through newspaper archives to learn the story of the other student. Here is where the viewer learns that the Sheriff and two Doctors were involved in this case. It appeared that after Billy committed suicide that Jake ceased to work with children, having only adult patients. They do show one heavy-set patient talking to Jake, who is playing with cards trying to figure out Tim.
Jake goes through his files and it did not register to me this distinction, but turned out that Jake had counseled their mother a year earlier where she confided in having an affair. I did not see how, but Jake then figures out it was the Sheriff who was having the affair, and learns that the same day of the murders he had slept with the mother.
One day Sylvie takes Jake along with her and Tim to show him something that Tim can do. This turns out to be an example of echolalia. This is a symptom of autism with the immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others. What makes no sense is how Tim does this in the same voice as the person he is repeating. I have no experience with echolalia, but know this cannot be so because I would have heard this over the last six years in one of my autism groups.
They are at this seafood restaurant near the beach and perhaps on a boardwalk, it is hard to decipher. After the waitress uses the microphone to announce specials Sylvie brings Tim over to the area and has him crouch down and use the microphone to send the diners in a frenzy commotion to get free drinks and food. While chaos ensues Sylvie and Tim head over to the counter to snatch up candy bars. Jake stands by in shock and tosses a bill on the counter before running after them.
This example of Tim using the voice is a key point to recall later when watching Silent Fall. There are several plot twists and turns that might make sense and others that just make the movie drag out. I was certain of the ending beforehand and then it changed up one last time to keep you guessing, or maybe not.
With the threat of Dr. Harlinger looming over Jake he felt forced and pressured to push Tim so he could get to the truth of what happened that fateful night. At one point Tim was in a padded room with a straight jacket around him as his sister watched and then Jake entered and got Tim to calm down and convinced the Sheriff he was close to gaining insight from Tim.
Jake’s wife seemed insecure at one point and thought Sylvie was interested in Jake. Jake worked long hours with the cards and strange voices emitting from Tim as a result of using the cards to figure out the sequence of events that led up to their parents being killed. Tim would cut up cards and leave them standing or lying down as replicas of the people involved that fateful night.
It was never mentioned what the drug was that the other Dr wanted to inject Tim with and I was not positive if the other patient Billy ever had an injection. At times you could see the concern from Sylvie for her brother and at other times she made no sense. I believe Sylvie was going to college during the day while Tim was working with Jake. The house they lived in was very large and creepy at times when they walked up the winding staircase.
Silent Fall did keep me guessing and also questioning some things, but it held my interest the entire time and I was satisfied for the most part with the way autism was presented, especially since it was not a true story and more of a thriller. One disturbing aspect is when Tim is using echolalia and repeating the F word that his father had used toward him. The Sheriff is the one to uncover some photos that show abuse had been going on in the home between the father and Tim.
Both Doctors seem to miss out on some key points during the movie and I wondered why the mother had not let on about the abuse when she was in therapy, since it was hinted at that she was aware of it. It was creepy when Tim was rehashing the voices in the room that evening and how Jake could just utter a word or noise and Tim would stop repeating until Jake gave him direction to start up again. This was totally unrealistic and falsely presented.
Richard Dreyfuss did a good job with his performance, although at times it was hard to tell what the character was thinking or feeling. His depiction of a child psychiatrist was believable and he showed interest in the patient and he seemed to have knowledge in the subject of autism. John Lithgow was the Doctor you grew to despise, although his character was under developed.
The best actor in Silent Fall by far was Ben Faulkner, who played the boy, but he did not seem to be a nine-year old since my son is the same age. His blank stares and vocalizing with noises was right on target and gave me goose bumps at times. For those that like mystery thrillers this is a good flick to consider and get a inside look at the world of a non-verbal autistic child with some off the wall scenarios.
Previously published on Epinions