Project Silence 탈출: 프로젝트 사일런스 (2024) Review: A Missed Opportunity of a Potentially Intriguing Disaster-Horror Hybrid

First premiered at the Midnight Screenings in the 76th Cannes Film Festival, Kim Tae-Gon’s Project Silence was originally scheduled for worldwide release that same year in 2023. But the movie ended up being postponed due to drug allegations surrounding Lee Sun-Kyun before his subsequent suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 48 on December 27, 2023. Project Silence marks one of Parasite star’s posthumous movies.

Now that Project Silence is finally here, the movie has a lot going for it. It boasts an intriguing premise of a few random strangers trapped in a fog-enshrouded bridge leading to the airport after a multiple-vehicle pile-up. Among the strangers are presidential aide Cha Jung-Won (Lee Sun-Kyun) and his rebellious daughter, Cha Kyung-Min (Kim Su-An). Jung-Won is a recent widower who’s been busy assisting his boss, Jung Hyun-Baek (Kim Tae-Woo) to win the upcoming election. His relationship with his daughter has been rocky ever since her children’s book author-mother died.

This leads to Kyung-Min’s decision to study abroad but the journey that night happens to suffer from bad weather. With the unusually thick fog hindering visibility, the ensuing accident happens after a reckless sports car driver nearly loses control of his vehicle, which in turn, causes a chain reaction as more vehicles collide one after another.

The movie also introduces other characters such as the gas station attendant and tow truck driver Jo Park (Ju Ji-Hoon) and his beloved lapdog, Jodie; moody pro golfer Yoo-Ra (Park Ju-Hyun) and her pitiful manager-sister Mi-Ran (Park Hee-Von); and an elderly couple played by Moon Sung-Keun and Ye Soo-Jung.

However, the multiple-vehicle pile-up is just part of the problem. There’s a military vehicle transporting a pack of experimental dogs codenamed “Echoes”, which are controlled by a researcher, Dr Yang (Kim Hee-Won) using a designated software on his laptop. The title of the movie refers to the top-secret government project that uses these dogs for certain purposes.

The combination of a disaster movie formula and a horror element revolving around mutated dogs reminds me of Train to Busan. But instead of the characters stuck inside the train, it’s a fog-covered bridge and the zombies turn out to be the aforementioned dogs. Too bad Kim Tae-Gon, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Kim Yong-Hwa and Park Joo-Suk, botches its potential to turn Project Silence into a thrilling genre movie.

One of the biggest problems lies in Tae-Gon’s lacklustre directorial flair to ratchet up the tension where it matters the most. Sure, there are scenes of the accidents as well as explosions and the eventual dog attack pouncing down on its human victims. And yet, everything feels shockingly flat to the point they barely raise a pulse. The action set pieces somehow lack the necessary visceral bites while the CGI dogs are adequate but nothing spectacular, despite the movie being granted a huge budget — reportedly costing 18.5 billion won — at Tae-Gon’s disposal. The movie may contain some decent suspenseful moments but still not enough to overcome the blandness of its disaster-horror genre hybrid, making the otherwise should’ve-been lean 101-minute length a tedious slog.

It doesn’t help either when the characters — save for Lee Sun-Kyun’s charismatic and no-nonsense leading turn as Cha Jung-Won and Ju Ji-Hoon’s amusing comic relief as Jo Park — are mostly reduced to thankless roles that I barely care whether they will make it alive. The pace is erratic and the gore moments are disappointingly tame for such a genre movie. By the time the movie finally reaches its third act, Project Silence already lost its steam as it slogs its way to an underwhelming conclusion.

If only Tae-Gon injected more creativity into the visuals and embraced its genre hybrid wholeheartedly with better character development and a consistently engaging storyline, Project Silence would have resulted in stronger work. The movie even concludes with an obvious indication of a sequel. Frankly, I’m not sure that’s even a good idea, considering how dull the overall movie ends up in the first place.