The creators of Silent House have promised audiences two things and delivered neither of them. Co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) have marketed their new movie as a tale of haunted house-style horror which has been shot in one continuous, unedited take. It isn’t and it wasn’t.
Things start out promisingly enough. The opening shot looks down on the principal player, Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), from a considerable height as she lingers by the edge of a lake. Aware of the one-take premise, the viewer can’t help but wonder how the operators of the camera will be able to return to earth and track the ground level action as it proceeds toward and into the titular vacation home and can’t help but be impressed when they somehow do so seamlessly.
Olsen’s character, we learn, is helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) fix up the family’s summer place in advance of putting it on the market. Vagrants have done some damage to the home, which is why the windows are boarded up and the interior looks like moments earlier somebody shot a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel in it and then bolted out the back door.
Rats have eaten through the wiring so the power is out. Because the windows are covered, everybody carries lamps or flashlights in the constant dark. The nearest neighbor is miles away and it goes without saying there’s no cell phone signal. All of which makes this a prime location for a bump-in-the-night-athon.
And, for the first hour or so, that’s what we get. Olsen proved in Martha Marcy May Marlene that she’s a remarkable actress with impressive range so coming up with a series of expressions that register terror, it’s no surprise, proves a piece of cake for her. These come in handy when Sarah begins to hear ominous noises, the men in the house disappear one after the other, only to turn up later in bad shape, and a briefly glimpsed intruder pursues her from hiding place to hiding place within the locked home.
So far so fun. The “no cut away” conceit forces the camera to focus on what she sees and, alternately, her reaction. The result for the viewer is a sense of sharing the increasingly creepy, claustrophobic ordeal with her and, had the filmmakers maintained this course, Silent House might well have wound up one of the year’s finest horror films.
Unfortunately they don’t. The most shocking thing in the movie, in fact, is a third act twist which defies logic while insulting the audience’s intelligence. The cardinal sin where these late in the game surprises are concerned, of course, is failing in retrospect to make sense in the context of everything that’s taken place beforehand. The twist in this picture is so moronically conceived it actually renders every scary moment leading up to it impossible. Minor detail.
Oh, and the whole business about shooting the film in one long take ala Hitchcock’s Rope? Another minor detail: It never happened. Silent House may be said to unfold in 88 minutes of real time as its advertising claims. However, the truth is those 88 minutes were choreographed and filmed in thirteen separate increments, which means they averaged approximately six minutes apiece. Longer than a typical shot surely but a far cry from the movie’s nearly hour and a half running time.
Kentis and Lau proved themselves masters of the psychological thriller with Open Water so it’s confounding to find them so lost at sea. The choice of source material certainly didn’t help. Their latest is a remake of a 2010 Uruguayan horror film entitled La Casa Muda, which I believe translates to Stupid House. Given how dumbed-down things have gotten at the cineplex lately, it wouldn’t surprise me should the project translate into major box office too but that won’t change the fact that it’s a waste of time in any language.