Some horror films operate on a more subtle level, drawing on subconscious fears that all of us share without relying on obvious violence and gore. Films such as Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Mike Flanagan’s “Doctor Sleep,” and Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad” fall into this category of arthouse horror films, as they slowly build up dread in a gradual and deliberate manner. The independent film “Simple Like Silver” (2020) continues this tradition of subdued, controlled horror, lulling the audience into a state of almost hypnotic comfort before revealing the darker, more disturbing layers beneath.

Written, directed, and edited by Damian K. Lahey, best known for “Cocaine Angel” and “The Heroes of Arvine Place,” “Simple Like Silver” follows three seemingly disparate characters whose storylines converge in unexpected ways as the film progresses. Shot in luminous black and white by Lahey on an iPhone, “Simple Like Silver” follows a young woman (Susanna Nelson), an older woman (Christina Marsillach from Dario Argento’s “Opera”), and a young boy (Hudson Sims) as they wander through the bucolic city of St. Augustine, Florida.

Although the landscape they walk through is filled with the ethereal beauty of nature, Lahey gradually uncovers the more chilling depths of his characters’ situations. With the exception of the boy, who represents the optimism of youth, the two female leads of “Simple Like Silver” are dealing with and recovering from horrific events. Through their voice-overs, Lahey reveals that the older woman is dealing with her mortality from a recent cancer diagnosis, while the younger woman is struggling to come to terms with sexual trauma. It is this underlying sense of impending doom that underlies the more horrific aspects of “Simple Like Silver,” and which envelopes Lahey’s aesthetically beautiful film with a melancholic tone. Without revealing too much, an act of unexpected violence occurs midway through “Simple Like Silver” that is just as startling and effective as any jump scare in a traditional horror film.

In the midst of these bleak elements, Lahey infuses “Simple Like Silver” with a sense of hope with the character of a boy who befriends the older woman. This storyline brings levity to the film, counteracting with the increasingly dire musings of the female leads. Indeed, throughout “Simple Like Silver,” Lahey explores the interaction between dichotomous forces—contrasting day and night, old age and youth, and life and death.

Like the most effective horror films, “Simple Like Silver” reveals the dangerous, primal forces always threatening to break through the seemingly placid tranquility of mundane reality. The gentle and melodic score by David Wingo reflects the warm, sun-streaked landscapes of “Simple Like Silver’s” Florida setting, while the film’s characters reflect and brood on the impermanence of their existence. Lahey doesn’t offer his protagonists any easy resolution to their struggles against darkness, but he does point the way forward with a touching conclusion that offers a glimpse of hope for the film’s endlessly wandering souls.

  • Film Review: Simple Like Silver