Two dudes and an Olsen sister go in search of … a better ending!
While it’s a bit of a relief to see a horror film not using the “found footage” gimmick, Silent House is ruined by a couple of lousy supporting performances and a stupid payoff after a decent start.
There’s a pretty good idea at play here: Keep a camera on a girl who is being stalked by “something” in a remote house that is difficult to escape. Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who gave us the effective shark thriller Open Water, do a nice job of making the movie look like one long, continuous shot. It isn’t, but there are some impressive long stretches and clever edits to make it appear as such.
Silent House is definitely an impressive technical achievement in shooting for that “real time” feel. It just needed a better script and a couple of men who can act.
Elizabeth Olsen, so good in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a real talent. As Sarah, the young woman who just can’t seem to escape her damned house, she does a supreme job at playing scared out of her mind. One gets the sense that this particular gig must’ve been quite taxing on her psyche. Kentis and Lau probably did a good job of actually scaring her senseless while filming.
Olsen has an arsenal of sounds that contribute well to the film’s claustrophobic feel. When she tries to harness and muffle her screams, it really is quite unsettling. She also lets out some pretty decent full-throated ones. Based on this, I would give her the distinction of Muffled and Suffocated Scream Queen.
The film has a few other players. Adam Trese is a real stiff as John, Sarah’s peculiar and particular dad. His line readings are flat, making it hard to invest in his character. Eric Sheffer Stevens is a little better as Sarah’s Uncle Peter, but he’s ultimately dead weight as well. Julia Taylor Ross is just a little too obvious as Sophia, a child friend of Sarah’s who mysteriously drops by to hang out.
The film starts with an impressive overhead shot of Sarah as she sits by a lake. The shot comes down to meet Sarah as she walks up and into the house, and it’s a nice sequence. Cinematographer Igor Martinovic, whose resume includes a lot of documentaries, works overtime to make the real-time gimmick work. It must be said that he is unable to keep his subjects in focus all of the time when they are in motion. It’s understandable given the task at hand, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy on the eyes.
This film is a remake of Uruguay’s The Silent House, a movie allegedly shot in one take for an estimated $6,000. I’ve seen portions of the original, and there’s no argument that Kentis and Lau have made a better-looking film, and probably made a wise choice to make the film appear like one take rather than actually shooting it in one take. A 90-minute continuous shot, while possible, would be a total bitch to shoot.
As I said before, the film is undone by a payoff that tries too hard to be “deep” and provide a big twist. Given the technical work at play, and the effective Olsen performance, the cinematographer and actress were deserving of something a little more distinct and honest. The payoff throws everything askew, makes little to no sense, and is easily guessed.
By the time credits rolled at the screening I attended, people yelled at the screen, using many expletives and variations on “That sucked!” While I don’t think Silent House sucks, I felt their frustration. Had the movie come up with a better final 15, it could’ve been something to remember. As it is, it’s just a semi-impressive stunt that ultimately wastes a solid central performance.