Posted on Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Germain Lussier
For their sophomore film, the team that brought us the original Open Water, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, chose a senior thesis to unveil at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Silent House, a remake of a Uruguayan film by the same name, sounds simple enough: a girl, her father and uncle are terrorized in their old, creepy house. What makes the film unique though is that it’s told in, mostly, one continuous shot. All the scares happen in real time and with an urgency that would be difficult to duplicate through traditional editing. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, who looks like a mix between the Olsen Twins (probably because she’s their sister) and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the film provides a bunch of legitimate scares and extreme tension despite story cliches and weak acting that’s almost definitely the result of not being able to say “Cut.” Read more about the film after the jump.
Sarah (Olsen) along with her father John (Adam Trese) and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) are visiting their old family summer house, attempting to fix it up and sell it. It’s light outside but, because the house has sat more or less abandoned for several years, all the windows are boarded up, making the interior feel like it’s night time. Eventually, Sarah begins to hear some noises and she and her father investigate. From there, the fun begins.
Watching a film without cuts can be both simultaneously impressive and exhausting. It’s impressive for obvious reasons – the movement of the camera, the lighting, the commitment to perfection of everyone on set – but without giving us any establishing or master shots to relax, the audience is always present. This tactic certainly works for a horror movie, but a good chunk of the film is used to establish the style. (Side note: There are cuts in this movie, they’re just hidden and very sparse.)
Because the directors hypothetically were so focused on that blocking, focus and lighting, at points the performances – specifically by Trese and Sheffer Stevens – suffer. You never quite believe these three people form a family. And while that awkward dynamic does have motivation, it doesn’t help the movie in its early stages. On the other hand, Olsen gives as dynamic a performance as possible under the film’s conditions. It’s hard to take your eyes off her, and not just because the camera is always following her. She has a pretty, girl-next-door quality that assuredly would only get more rich if she was given additional takes to hone her character.
You don’t go into a movie like Silent House for performances though. You go in for the scares. And while several will feel highly telegraphed to any self-respecting horror fan, the intense style of the film still provides plenty of tension. Then, as the film progresses, the scares get bigger and bigger.
Even with these scares though, the film is not without a slew of horror movie cliches. Many are played back at us with a winking eye – don’t go upstairs, don’t go in the basement, just leave, etc. – but by the climax, Kentis and Lau have built up such an abundance of them, the ending feels telegraphed. Plus, without spoiling anything, I wish the film had the guts to stand up on its own.
Silent House is almost assuredly going to get a US release. It’s too technically impressive and scary to be ignored. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t quite live up to its full potential.