Film Review – Silent House
“88 minutes of terror”…a great tagline, but there is more to the film Silent House than an effective marketing campaign. The film marks the theatrical return of directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who were last seen in theaters nearly a decade ago with their breakout hit Open Water. Times may have changed since then, but the team still knows how to put together a captivating product.
Based on the critically acclaimed Uruguayan film La Casa Muda (2010), Silent House is the story of Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), who is working to repair her family’s weather-damaged vacation house along with her father and uncle (Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens, respectively). After her uncle heads to town, mysterious intruders appear at the house and begin to menace her and her father. I will admit a vibe similar to that of The Strangers (2008) going on in the film, as Sarah struggles to figure out who is attacking her and her family, but the film really is so much more than just that.
Silent House isn’t just a movie: it is a demonstration of creative ingenuity. As in the film it is based on, the action takes place in one continuous uninterrupted shot. Clearly this isn’t the first time that has been done, but it is still an impressive feat to behold. Not only does this film touch upon other films with real-time stories like High Noon, but it takes it one step further to make it inescapable…to give the viewer no chance to release from the tension. Despite looking like a found footage movie, the film does not purport to be one, but the use of one camera creates a very personal feeling.
While there are a handful of actors in the film, it is clearly Elizabeth Olsen’s show. She stole the show last year in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and once again, this movie is all about her. The audience essentially experiences a third-person perspective of her journey through the story…in some ways it almost has a video game-like feel to it. And Olsen is once again allowed to show her emotional range. Despite having a much shorter filmography than her more famous sisters, she has quickly demonstrated that she is the best actress of the bunch. While I doubt this film will generate any award buzz for her, I certainly hope it is a springboard to bigger projects where she will see that recognition. There is little doubt in my mind, the girl can flat-out act. (I thought she should’ve already been nominated for her work in Martha Marcy May Marlene.)
Technically, the film is impressive. The complexity of the staging, the camerawork, the lighting, and the sound should not to be taken lightly. Though it probably will probably be forgotten when it comes time for awards season next year, this is the kind of technical achievement that I think deserves to be rewarded. (I will forewarn that if you are easily nauseated by shaky camerawork, such as in Cloverfield, you should keep in mind that you might not like this film because of its extensive use of it.) The film also uses little to no score. I love that decision, and I’m surprised more filmmakers haven’t capitalized on it. It was one of the standout elements of Kevin Smith’s Red State last year. It allows the focus to entirely be on the action on the screen, and, much like Sarah, you can’t help but hold your breath.
Silent House has a lot of good elements to it, but it certainly isn’t perfect. For me, that point came out two-thirds of the way through. There is a specific plot element that comes to light at that point and, personally, I felt it was an easy way out. I’m not saying it was bad, but it just wasn’t ultimately satisfying to me. I think some films try to make themselves overly complex by creating extra layers in the story, and sometimes it’s better to just play to your strengths. This is an example of that.
In the end, I’m left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Not because of any major failings by the film, but at my thoughts for what the film could have been. If it had stuck to what it was doing well all the way through to the end, I think it could’ve left its mark on the horror genre, and now I see it as just an entertaining case study in creative filmmaking. The film does a good job of capitalizing on Olsen’s character’s torment for scares, but I didn’t find it particularly terrifying overall. All that being said, I’m eager to see what Chris Kentis and Laura Lau do next.
Final Grade: B-