Film review: Silent House
Here is an impressive take on horror with novel twist
Silent House (15) Directors: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens
85 mins ***
Handheld shaky cam has been the prevailing horror film gimmick for well over a decade. Silent House twists the gimmick with the pretence that its entire running length is a single continuous take. It isn’t and to be honest the pretence isn’t particularly convincing, but the effect is still impressive.
The film is a swift piece of de-subtitling, a remake of the Uruguayan original La Casa Muda. (After making Open Water, the film about the scuba diving couple left stranded in shark-infested water, Kentis and Lau have spent a decade failing to get projects made before being offered this.)
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It’s a basic creaky old dark house scenario. Sarah (Olsen) is helping her father (Trese) and uncle (Stevens) do up the lakeside cottage where she spent many summer holidays as a child, prior to it being sold. One afternoon when she finds herself alone she becomes aware of another presence in the boarded up house.
The scares are standard – inexplicable noises, sudden bangs, fleetingly seen figures – but delivered with considerable intensity.
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The early lull period, the opening scenes of normality before the menace descends, are particularly well done. The imperceptible shift from safety to peril is unusually convincing and it is especially disturbing that while she is running in terror through a dark house illuminated by various strategically place light sources, on the other side of the shuttered doors it is daylight.
Olsen was very impressive in Martha Marcy May Marlene and you can see the appeal of this role; she’s on screen throughout and she is just as good in this. Shooting in a continuous take creates a sense of double jeopardy. Normally in these films either the camera has been assigned a personality, another character that is in danger, or it is an impersonal, uninvolved observer.
Here though it sticks to its mistress with the dogged determination of a pet but without ever really defining its stake in events. Sometimes it seems to share her jeopardy, sometimes it seems at a remove from it or even perhaps to have a hand in it.
Of course the nature of the film means a lot depends on the big final reveal. The film keeps its secret right to the very end and when it came it struck me as novel and satisfying. I should concede though that it and the film seem to provoke wild hostility in most horror fans.