“Hellfire, sex, and youth” are the three words Louis McCartney and Ella Lily Hyland used to describe Silent Roar at its red-carpet premier at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It’s a pretty accurate description. The film follows Dondo (McCartney), a loveable teen surfer who is dealing with bereavement a year on from his father’s disappearance at sea. While the new priest (Mark Lockyer) encourages Dondo to attend church, cool girl Saskia (Hyland), and Dondo’s crush, challenges conservative ideas in the town. In the midst of this, Dondo begins to have his own cosmic visions. Born in the Isle of Skye, Johnny Barrington’s feature debut is a charming and atmospheric coming of age film set in the Isle of Lewis that bites off a bit more than it can chew being too eccentric to produce real substance.
Silent Roar addresses big ideas such as grief, sexuality, organised religion, and the existence of God. Barrington’s observation of this small Scottish town and its teenage inhabitants is most successful when he makes the themes connect and overlap in unlikely places. Indeed, the film’s ability to treat these three themes as one subject is its main strength. While Silent Roar addresses a lot of big ideas, it fails to explore any of them in depth; the surfer attitude of letting go is interesting pertaining to grief, however Silent Roar’s ambivalence does not bode well for its discussion of God, religion, and spirituality. With the promise of interesting discussions unfulfilled, Silent Roar is unable to reach new heights.
The ambivalence that plagues Silent Roar’s viewpoint also undermines its tone. While the dialogue oscillates between comedy to drama, Dondo’s cosmic visions of divine surfer dudes, his father, and Jesus often feel out of place. The psychedelic tone Barrington tries to introduce with these excerpts clashes with the more whimsical characters, making the film feel scattered.
Louis McCartney is a convincing and affable surfer dude as Dondo and Ella Lily Hyland balances his performance with her nuanced delivery of cynical humour. While Hyland is particularly captivating both are charming leads and carry the film well. Both actors doubtless do the most they can with the script however the films inability to reach a meaningful standpoint on any of its subject matter also extends to the development of its characters with little revealed about them throughout the film.
While the underdevelopment of characters leaves more to be wanted, the way Barrington films the Isle of Lewis, and the North Sea is noteworthy. The waves are captured on screen in a soothing, dangerous, beautiful, and often abstract. Landscape shots are simple but stunning. Instead of making Lewis’ natural beauty the focal point of the project, he wisely creates an atmospheric film that bodes well for themes of spirituality. His upbringing in Skye has clearly informed his mature approach to filming Lewis: Barrington is not interested in framing the landscape as a grand and or noble setting but as the home of the film’s protagonists. If only Barrington could have paid the same attention to the story and characters in Silent Roar as he did to its setting, the film could have been more effective. However, as it stands; his debut feature film is a delightful Scottish coming of age film.
Image issued to The Student for press material by The Corner Shop PR.