It’s become a reigning pulp cliché of our era that practically every dramatic protagonist must have a dead or endangered child motivating them. It’s the fallback device to provide “depth” to a troubled character, or to explain why they might bother saving the world or doing anything else for the greater good. Lorena Villarreal’s “Silencio” takes that lazy writer’s emotional choke-chain to ridiculous extremes, as eventually here it seems there’s almost no central figure who doesn’t have a child’s life to rescue or avenge. This turgid fantasy thriller, boasting scant thrills or imagination, douses a mystic time-travel concept with soap operatic hand-wringing to mawkishly unconvincing effect. The U.S.-Mexican co-production is getting released to some 300 Stateside screens, primarily targeting Hispanic markets.

A prologue depicts a NASA missile going off-course and crashing in the Zone of Silence, “the Bermuda Triangle of Mexico” which purportedly acts “like a magnetic vortex for meteors and other space debris.” (That Durango desert region actually does exist, and is an object of various modern urban myths.) Scientist Dr. James White (John Noble) and young assistant Peter (Nic Jackman) investigate the wreckage. Upon touching a particular rock found within, they’re suddenly transported to a time and place where they can partially avert a tragedy that recently stuck the doctor’s family.

Many years later, White is a sporadically senile grandfather living with surviving daughter Ana (Melina Matthews) and her only child Felix (Ian Garcia Monterrubio). During one of his more lucid moments, Gramps suddenly realizes he must “find the magic stone before my mind goes to sleep again,” though he can’t locate it where he once buried it.

Others are looking for the mystery rock as well: A thug (Hoze Melendez) is hired by someone to strong-arm it away from the Whites, prompting him to hold Felix hostage until they hand it over. A now middle-aged Peter (Rupert Graves) happens to be in town — he’s become a famous expert on the Zona’s mysteries — as all of this occurs. Another key figure is Daniel (Michel Chauvet), who has a “gift” for seeing dead people with urgent messages for the living.

Though professionally slick enough in its packaging surface, “Silencio” has little action and few engaging ideas. Instead, there’s a lot of poker-faced yakking about vague phenomena, and a weak attempt at twisty “Inception”-like revising of reality. Purportedly the stone can only save one life at a time, requiring an equal sacrifice in return — a dilemma that leads to multiple characters yelling at each other about just whose child must die to save another. We’re meant to find these tough choices primal and moving. But frankly, by that point, the story clearly lacks an emotionally genuine bone in its body — though Leoncio Lara’s earnest orchestral score struggles to suggest otherwise.

No one here seems terribly persuaded by Villarreal’s (“The Weeping Women”) contrived screenplay, and among the highly variable performances, veteran Australian actor Noble manages to be hammy in two separate time periods. Ironically, the character we feel most sympathy for is the poor, junkie-looking schmo of a kidnapper, who isn’t even granted a name — yet gets the brunt of some vigilante violence in return for crimes he’s hardly responsible for.

That scapegoat-battering aside, it’s not quite clear what secured “Silencio” its R rating, as the film seems aimed at a very middle-of-the-road audience, with “family values” ladled onto the popcorn-supernatural premise like trans-fatty “butter flavoring.” No parent should ever have to suffer losing a child — but using just such grief as a crude, over-milked plot device can turn a bland, forgettable escapist bore like this into a faintly insulting one. No offense is taken, however, at the seemingly inevitable, meaningless onscreen claim “Inspired by true events.”

Film Review: ‘Silencio’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 22, 2018. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: <strong>96 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Mexico-U.S.) A Tulip Pictures release of a Tulip Pictures presentation of a Barraca Prods. production. Producers: Lorena Villarreal, Denisse Chapa. Co-producers: Darian De La Fuente, Kim Williams.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Lorena Villarreal. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Mateo Londono. Editors: Glenn Garland, Patrick McMachon. Music: Leoncio Lara “Bon.”
  • With: Melina Matthews, Rupert Graves, John Noble, Michel Chauvet, Nic Jackman, Hoze Melendez, Ian Garcia Monterrubio, Shayne Anneliese Coleman, Lucy Paez. (English, Spanish dialogue)