Jay Habre, Joseph Martinez (back) and Sean Nateghi in Silent Panic (Photo: Major Major Film)

★★½ (out of four)
STARS Sean Nateghi, Joseph Martinez

One of the various plot strands in 1993’s Short Cuts, Robert Altman’s masterful adaptation of a batch of Raymond Carver short stories, involves the discovery of a young woman’s corpse by three friends (Fred Ward, Buck Henry and Huey Lewis) set to begin a weekend fishing trip. As they don’t want this unfortunate incident to disrupt their fishing, they shockingly decide to leave the body in the stream and only call the police after their R&R trip is over.

Naturally, with Altman and Carver involved, the situation is one fueled by cynicism. Writer-director Kyle Schadt’s Silent Panic takes that premise and replaces the cynicism with paranoia.

Best buds Eagle (Sean Nateghi), Bobby (Joseph Martinez) and Dominic (Jay Habre) have just concluded a camping trip when they discover the corpse of a young woman that was stashed in the trunk of Eagle’s car while they were enjoying nature. Unlike the trio in Altman’s tale, two of these men, Bobby and Dominic, think they should report the body to the police posthaste. Eagle disagrees, for the simple reason that he’s an ex-con — and not even a guilty one, as he was wrongly imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. But Eagle knows how the world works, and he’s convinced that his record would place him at the top of the suspect list. He finally manages to convince the others not to call the police and instead allow him time to work out a solution.

Naturally, this course of action only makes matters worse. Eagle has to drive around town with a corpse in his trunk, and this leads to some schemes that are destined to fail (including abandoning the car and reporting it as stolen). His girlfriend Robin (Constance Brenneman) doesn’t understand why he’s acting so strange, particularly when it comes to that car trunk. Meanwhile, Dominic tries to keep his mind off the incident by spending time with a sorta-girlfriend (Juliet Frew) while Bobby is so consumed with guilt that he considers reigniting his long-dormant drug habit.

Schadt sets up the situation nicely (although wouldn’t a dead body stuffed in a car trunk in Los Angeles begin to smell almost immediately and quickly attract attention via the stench alone?) and, for a good while, makes all the right moves as he focuses on the mental strain being experienced by the hapless dude-bros. But the second half finds the helmer stretching to keep the story going, with some ridiculous narrative developments and too much focus on Bobby, arguably the most familiar and thus least interesting character.

The performances are uniformly decent — Brenneman’s is the strongest, and look for an amusing bit by Jeff Dowd, the real-life inspiration for The Dude in the Coens’ The Big Lebowski. And the final twist makes up for some of that late-inning disappointment and sends Silent Panic off on a high note.

(Silent Panic is now available on Amazon Prime, Tubi TV, and other streaming services.)

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