Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese
Inspired by Hitchcock’s classic real-time thriller Rope (1948) and Alexander Sokurov’s single shot steadicam historical-drama Russian Ark (2002), Silent House came equipped with promises of terror and suspense, encompassing an original filming technique that was potentially exciting for both horror buffs and cinephiles.
A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film La Casa Muda, which is supposedly based on true events that took place in a village in Uruguay in the 1940s, Silent House centres on a young woman named Sarah who moves temporarily into her family’s decaying and boarded up Victorian lake-side holiday home to restore it. Not long after Sarah, her father and uncle arrive they are terrorised by something or someone who wishes to take no prisoners. Sarah finds herself trapped in this house that she has no memory of, unable to make contact with the outside world as a menacing and threatening presence leaves a blazing trail of panic and horror.
Unfortunately this independent film suffers at the hands of the one thing that should have made it great – the supposed single ‘continuous’ take. The unintentionally/intentionally (which one it is still remains a mystery) misleading marketing had audiences believing that Silent House was a film shot in a real-time take, with no cuts throughout the 88 minutes of running time. In reality it was filmed in roughly 10-12 minute takes, cleverly edited to hide the breaks and mimic the constantly rolling effect. This is admirably and initially effectively done and directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau should be praised for a valiant effort. Though it was difficult to pin-point precisely where cuts were made, there were plenty of dark, almost pitch black moments where a crafty edit would be almost unnoticeable to the untrained eye. Regrettably, after the first quite promising quarter of the film where the technique is still novel, the ‘no cut’ method begins to drag the film down, causing it to feel slow and unpolished. The experimental, almost art-house feel may have been intentional, but horror films rely on quick editing to keep pace and this unconventional mode of filming failed to succeed in building the tension so vital to the genre.
The story had potential but wasn’t developed enough to create any feeling of empathy towards the characters. We’re given no back-story and the film needed to give Sarah a stronger voice. Lau is quoted as saying “This entire movie is this woman’s experience; it is her reality […] it is one character’s point of view, it’s exactly what she’s experiencing”. Why then do we not feel any sense of this young woman’s personality?
There’s a lot of running and a lot of screaming, but until the very last scene barely anything of merit happens. There were many wasted opportunities within the story and it waived on what type of horror film it actually was until its clarification of being a psychological horror at the end.
There are some great features in Silent House that manage to save it from further criticism. The first fifteen minutes of the film are skilfully and seamlessly captured – emphasising the amount of planning that it would have taken to ensure the smoothness and continuity of the constantly moving camera. The technical and mobility issues would surely have caused quite a few headaches.
The scenery acts as a beautiful but eerie backdrop, with the dark, gothic house providing the perfect horror film situation. We may have seen scenarios like this before, but dilapidated houses will always lend themselves to the horror genre and never cease to be creepy.
Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Sarah, is perfectly cast and has a captivating on-screen presence. She acts her part with edgy conviction and we really feel her terror when she eventually escapes from the house only to be lured back in again. Olsen is one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood at present, with a string of commendable performances in indie movies, most notable Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). It’s quite a feat to remain on camera for such long periods of time without breaking character and Olsen’s theatrical training enabled her to bring some life to a seemingly lifeless character with no back-story.
The twist at the end was one I personally didn’t see coming. Perhaps I’d lost the storyline slightly in all the dark and jerky camera shots or maybe I just wasn’t quick enough to pick up on the final curve-ball. Regardless, I always applaud a film that can catch me out.
Whether you enjoyed Silent House or not, the entire ensemble involved in making it should be given credit for effort. There’s no lack of trying here – it’s just a shame it wasn’t entirely successful. Still, there is hope. With every horror film there’s always a dozen remakes just waiting to get the green light, so perhaps we’ll see another Silent House remake in years to come.