Review by Sean Boelman
Biopics are a dime a dozen, but every once in a while, a filmmaker comes along that takes the bones of the biopic genre and spins them on their head, creating something wholly idiosyncratic. That is exactly what Agnieszka Smoczynska does with her movie The Silent Twins, a bizarre crime drama elevated by its unique stylistic flair.
The film tells the story of two identical twins who refuse to communicate with anyone other than themselves, eventually leading them into a life of crime. The movie is based on a book by Marjorie Wallace telling the true story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, but it takes a very abstract and bizarre approach to this story.
The main strength of this film is the many ambitious stylistic choices made by Smoczynska. Although they don’t always pay off within the greater context of the story, this is not a movie that can be faulted for being by-the-book. Several sequences of the film are done in stop-motion animation, lending it a sense of childlike fantasy and wonder that plays perfectly against the characters’ arcs.
Other sequences spontaneously become dance numbers with an almost lyrical quality to them. It’s gorgeous and mesmerizing, even if these slightly abstract sequences don’t always serve the themes as well as the filmmakers clearly hoped they would. Still, the vibes are great, largely thanks to the soundtrack full of riffs on familiar tunes.
The highly unorthodox character development could end up feeling off-putting to some, but it’s such a fascinating exercise in characterization that it’s hard not to at least admire the work done by screenwriter Andrea Seigel. The movie does not present the sisters as typical criminals with a good soul, but as almost mythically cryptic characters drifting through their own world.
Letitia Wright and Jodhi May bring the two lead roles to the screen in a way that is wonderfully complex and nuanced. Their chemistry together is truly astounding, with their performances managing to be similar enough to be unsettling but disparate enough to feel compellingly distinctie. May, in particular, knocks it out of the park with her performance that feels like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.
The only thing about the film that doesn’t work well is its scattershot pacing. The narrative covers the lives of these twins, spanning decades and jumping through the significant events in their lives. While this is clearly done with the intention of creating a dream-like atmosphere, it can be frustrating just as, if not more often than it is effective.
It would be understandable if general audiences completely reject The Silent Twins due to its unorthodox approach to its narrative. And while Agnieszka Smoczynska’s very ambitious style isn’t always consistent enough for the movie to be a slam dunk, it’s formally interesting enough to be an alluring watch nonetheless.
The Silent Twins hits theaters on September 16.