Disaster movie plus creature feature? That’s how you fill theater seats, and the Lee Sun-Kyun-led action-disaster-thriller Project Silence is well worth the big screen. Directed by Kim Tae-gon and written by Kim, Kim Yong-hwa, and Park Joo-suk, Project Silence embodies the tried and true creature disaster formula extremely well, only this time, there are a lot of creatures, and they’re military-trained test dogs.
The protagonists at the film’s center, Cha Jeong-won (Lee Sun-kyun), and his daughter Kyung-min (Kim Su-an) are a duo trying to rebuild their life after the loss of the family matriarch. While Kyung-min watches old videos of her mother and holds onto her last published book, her father throws himself into his work in the Blue House as the ambitious deputy director of South Korea’s security department.
As a father, Jeong-won is slightly clueless, unsure how to fill the void his wife left or help his daughter out of her own grief, but he cares deeply in his own way. At work, Jeong-won is manipulating the press and doing everything in his power to get his boss elected as the next president. When Jeong-won heads to the airport to drop off Kyung-min to study abroad, a catastrophic pileup on the 13-mile bridge that connects Incheon Airport to the mainland stops their travel and puts them in danger. When a military experiment, the titular Project Silence, gets let loose, the daddy-daughter duo team up with other survivors to stay alive.
A certified popcorn flick, Project Silence goes the extra mile because of actor Lee, who puts his all into the physical elements of the film and moves between playing a caring dad and a cold-hearted politician with ease. No stranger to playing the daughter of a work-obsessed father, actress Kim has perfect the role, which she also played in one of the definitive films of the last decade, Train to Busan. Her dynamic with Lee is fantastic and loving, rounding out Jeong-won’s rough edges. But the film goes beyond just these two.
A pro-golfer and her manager, a military scientist responsible for the event, an old married couple just back from their first vacation abroad, and a tow-truck driver round out the rest of the cast. Even if they’re thinly written characters, they all work together with specific roles that call to creature feature survival stories of the past. While the characters in the film aren’t all fully fleshed out, the ways in which they work together as tropes within the genre are well-executed, with Lee Sun-kyun‘s Jeong-won and Ju Ji-hoon‘s Park being clear standouts of the ensemble cast.
For actor Ju, his character, which is mostly called Wrecker in the English subtitles by Jeong-won is the comedic fiber of the film. Running down the bridge with his dog Jodie in a messenger bag, he’s eccentric, loud, and, by the end of the film, a hero. His aesthetic and role within the group are played well, and his attitude directly goes against Jeong-won’s pushing interpersonal conflict and forcing the politician’s hand more times than not.
Having celebrated its premiere at Cannes, Project Silence is loud, messy, and surprisingly capable of actually making you root against mistreated puppies (just a tiny bit). Even in its messiness, Project Silence knows exactly what it is, the genre it’s embodying, and what archetypes are important to selling the story. Undeniably, the film ultimately gets your blood pumping and pushes you to the edge of your seat.
That said, your level of fun will rely on how much you’re okay with pitbull mixes being the monsters in this movie and the violence towards them as the ensemble cast tries to survive. With a sad reason for being the way they are, sometimes it’s hard to root against the dogs, even though the cast is endearing and has a perfect baby named Jodie they’re protecting, too. With a little convoluted messiness surrounding how the dogs were commissioned and who did the commissioning, it’s not unlike others in the genre.
Still, Project Silence is a wild ride with some stellar cinematography. The way that the film uses fog specifically helps the group to be isolated by making escape and rescue more difficult. With some great actors and fast-paced action that doesn’t let up until the end, Project Silence is a damn good time at the movies.
Project Silence screened as a part of the Fantastic Fest 2023 program.
With some great actors and fast-paced action that doesn’t let up until the end, Project Silence is a damn good time at the movies.