Silent Panic takes a standard thriller narrative and uses it to launch a character study of three friends’ very different reactions to the same event. The film opens with the abandonment of a woman’s body in the trunk of a car. The car belongs to Eagle (Sean Nateghi), an ex-con camping with his friends Dom (Jay Habre) and Bobby (Joseph Martinez) in Angeles National Forest. The three are having a perfectly pleasant time until they discover the body and wind up disagreeing on how to handle it. Dom and Bobby are all for going to the police, but Eagle doesn’t think that the cops will believe them that the body just showed up in their trunk. As their decisions compound the problem, the film becomes something of a case study in how the men react to the circumstances, and how their choices complicate things further.
The basic setup of Silent Panic is the sort of thing we’d expect from an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the initial events play out much as an episode would. The responses of the three men are natural – Eagle doesn’t want to be sent back to prison, the other two are disturbed by his recalcitrance and increasingly guilt-ridden themselves, especially Bobby, who struggles with a drug problem. And the film makes much of this conflict, as the three move farther from being able to reveal the presence of the body without implicating themselves. Nor can they agree on what to actually do with the body—it remains in the trunk of Eagle’s car, and is the source of the film’s best tension, as he attempts to conceal its presence from his girlfriend, Robin (Constance Brenneman).
The strength of the film lies in its ability to establish and maintain tension, something which it succeeds at much of its runtime. The choice not to go to the cops is primarily Eagle’s, and he’s at once the most interesting and least sympathetic of the three protagonists, essentially telling his friends what to do in an effort to protect himself. There’s betrayal and complication, anger and misdirected energy, and the question of how the body even got there, who it is, and why it’s in their trunk. For the most part, Silent Panic manages to maintain its tension without going overboard.
The film’s weakness, though, lies in the increasingly unbelievable choices made by its protagonists, a few plot holes that are difficult to ignore, and the occasional divergence into near-comedy that seems, in places at least, unintentional. Bobby heads off to his drug dealer when he can no longer stand the tension, resulting in an extended scene in which Jeff Dowd (touted as the real-life inspiration for the Dude in The Big Lebowski) tries to convince Bobby to go to rehab, all while puffing on a vape pen. Entertaining? Yes. But not particularly applicable to the plot at large.
More problematic are some of the characters’ reactions to the presence of the body, as when Eagle decides to go off gambling and deny the body’s existence at all. Most thrillers have some kind of plot hole, but there are a number of open questions: if the woman disappeared, do the police know? Why aren’t they mentioning her disappearance? Isn’t that body beginning to smell? And so forth. While we can get past some of the problems, others become more prevalent the more you think about them.
Silent Panic is a middling thriller, with a solid concept and mostly solid performances. Director Kyle Schadt finds some excellent points of tension to keep the viewer engaged, but the film becomes less believable as it goes on. Still, it’s a good piece of entertainment and a character-driven approach to the thriller that should be lauded for the attempt.
Silent Panic is available to stream on Tubi, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play.