[Review] – Silent House

3 Apr

Title: Silent House
Year: 2012
Directors: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Writer: Laura Lau, based on the original screenplay for 2010’s The Silent House by Oscar Estévez
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
MPAA Rating: R, disturbing violent content and terror
Runtime: 85 min
IMDb Rating: 5.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Metacritic: 48

Elizabeth Olsen broke out big last year, with a seriously mesmerizing performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I ranked as my second favorite performance by an actress in a leading role of 2011. She’s destined for great things, you just know that from watching that performance, but before we get a look at Ms. Olsen (insert here the obligatory mention that she’s the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) in the roles her breakthrough performance brought her, we get to watch her in a film she took on before she got all the great notices. And that film is Silent House, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau‘s remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film The Silent House.

There’s a pretty awesome trick that’s used in telling this story. You see, the whole thing’s told in a single, uninterrupted shot, which amps up the tension considerably as you unblinkingly follow Ms. Olsen in a real-time journey. And that trick really is pretty nifty to watch be so meticulously choreographed, and indeed adds a lot to the overall effect of a horror film because you feel like you’re there and you feel the danger ratcheting up, not having an evident edit or cut in the action doesn’t allow for a breath to be taken, and you feel like this is happening to you. The problem for me, however, is that while that technical feat is certainly quite impressive and ambitious, a part of me felt that the payoff it built towards just wasn’t all that great.

It seems like every beautiful and talented young actress has to appear in a horror film, like some sort of rite of passage for them. Rooney Mara was in the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street before David Fincher took notice of her; Renée Zellweger was in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation before Jerry Maguire; and Jennifer Lawrence also shot a girl-running-and-screaming horror flick before she did The Hunger Games, House at the End of the Street, though that one’s being released after the teen franchise to capitalize on the bigger name-recognition surrounding its lead. So it’s not as you can fault Ms. Olsen for choosing a project like this, not to mention that Silent House is definitely better than most of its counterparts.

Of course it’s not as though Silent House was really shot all in one take. That would have taken an incredible amount of preparation and pretty masterful coordination between cast and crew; here we get a lot of times in which the screen goes dark for some reason or another, and edits could be concealed there as well as in other occasions. But still, it’s the illusion that makes the stunt work, and it’s Ms. Olsen that makes the illusion work, bringing a lot of pleasantly surprising weight to a role that a lesser actress would have played in much more generic ways just screaming her way through it. The camera is always very close on her character, Sarah, and if you’ve seen Martha Marcy May Marlene (which I gave an A+ to) then you know how perfect Ms. Olsen’s face is to follow around in tight shots; and I don’t mean that just because she’s beautiful (though she most definitely is), but because she does a lot with her expressions, and here when she’s allowed to just show a quiet kind of terror in her face is when the film works best.

Sarah goes to a lake house with her dad and her uncle; a big, three-floor vacation house with lots of doors that no one in the family has used in years, which in turn has made the house a target for vandalism, which in turn has resulted in the family boarding up all of the windows and securely locking any sort of point of entrance. So, you see, this is a lake house that would serve extremely well as a trap. And as Sarah is left alone to explore at first, she begins to hear some things, and when her uncle leaves for a short while, well, let’s just say the house starts serving its potential as a trap.

It really is quite cool how the uninterrupted take format can make you feel. It’s like you’re in a first-person kind of nightmare, you feel every sense of panic Sarah feels, you have the urge to do the things she does in her situation because you’re put in her shoes and the fact that there are no evident cuts in the action doesn’t allow for you to check back to reality all that easily. And it really is pretty cool how Mr. Kentis and Ms. Lau have used this technique; it opens with an overhead crane shot above the lake shore that then goes down the road, into a house, and follows Sarah all over it, and it really does look like it was done in one single take. That, and how they switch perspectives from point-of-view to following shots, add a lot of little tricks to their arsenal and really make this a rather fascinating watch.

The thing though, is that while I was so in it for the first half of it or so, genuinely buying into the really scary moments the film delivered and loving the single-take thing, my appreciation for Silent House started to falter as it entered its final act. Though it had already given us a lot of hints for us to imply as to what was really going in the house that made it such a haunted sort of place, the film still decides to give us an explicit explanation of it at its end, and it felt both too deliberate as well as unconvincing for me to buy it, and it ended up hurting the film quite a bit in my opinion. Still, if only for the technical originality this one boasts, it’s worthy of a recommendation. Not to mention Elizabeth Olsen could have fared much worse in the young-and-beautiful-actress mandatory scream fest.

Grade: B-

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7 Responses to “[Review] – Silent House”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies April 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Oh, I don’t know why I didn’t know that it was a single shot but that makes me want to see it. Even if it’s a generic horror movie it’s nice to see them trying something different like that, even if the whole point was just trying something different.

    • ArtfullyBedraggled April 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      Yeah, absolutely, it was certainly worthy of a recommendation from me just because it at least went for something technically notable to make itself original, better than the recent onslaught of “found footage” films that seem to be the genre’s norm right now.

  2. colincarman April 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    The final act is a problem and the family secret is repulsive. Look out for Olsen though as she is dynamite, as you write, in MARTHA MARCY.

    http://colincarman.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/review-silent-house/

    • ArtfullyBedraggled April 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

      Yeah, really looking forward to see what she does next. Maybe her upcoming turn in Liberal Arts will be a good one, I was one of those that really liked Josh Radnor’s directorial debut from last year so it’ll be cool to see what he does next with Olsen in tow.

      • colincarman April 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

        Just saw Radnor’s MARTHA on DVD and impressed as well; how did you interpret the ending? That was a cult member who had resurfaced, watching her swim – unless it was a delusion? – and the car appears to stop but then carries on. It can go either way but I assume she’s on the way to therapy…?

      • ArtfullyBedraggled April 5, 2012 at 11:52 am #

        Yeah that ending in MMMM is pretty great to talk about in how open they deliberately left it; some people thought it was for the worse, while I actually really loved it and thought it heightened an already terrific movie.

        If you read the script for it, it says that the man watching her swim indeed “looks familiar” (or something along those lines), so it could make sense for it to be a cult member (though she did accuse another guy from being a cult member who really wasn’t, so you can’t really know). And then when the car stops because a guy walks in front of it, in the film you can’t necessarily tell but the script notes that he indeed was the guy who was watching her swim. Whether he was indeed a cult member, or whether this happened at all is something the film leaves for you to decide, which I why I love it so damn much haha

      • colincarman April 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

        Well great minds think alike: most film-goers can’t handle ambiguity and irresolution. The best example is when a friend hated DOUBT because it was left unknown at the end, and I had to remind them the play/film is called DOUBT. Thanks for the input here. Write on!

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