In recent years, the horror genre has become a familiar parade of startling jumps and characters with shaky psychological dispositions. Little about new film “Silent House” differs from the new genre norm, but the film isn’t trying to be innovative in plot points, but in technique. The problem with the film’s grand technical ambitions is that it only partially fulfills them.
“Silent House” is an English-speaking remake of the 2010 Spanish film “La Casa Muda” and stars Elizabeth Olsen (who broke into the movie business with her praiseworthy performance in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” last year) as Sarah, who is helping her father and uncle to fix up their old vacation home to sell. In the process, Sarah is left alone in the large, dark house as mysterious figures begin to stalk and taunt her. The problem with the plot is that it relies on familiar tropes and a “twist ending” that any rational person can see coming from almost the beginning of the film.
“Silent House” has been marketed as an hour and a half single take film with no edits. The filmmakers (Chris Kentis and Laura Lau) keep the camera focused on Olsen’s character throughout the film, giving you a sense of claustrophobia and the opportunity to experience the character’s terror first-hand. Olsen’s acting skill is truly what keeps this movie afloat: in the first ten minutes, the acting of her costars Eric Stevens and Adam Trese combined with the handheld camera work makes the movie feel amateurish.
The single-take idea is wonderful in theory: the movie happens in real time, and watching Olsen’s reactions give you a real sense of terror, even if the character makes some questionable choices. The facts have arisen that it was shot in rough ten-minute segments, and then edited to hide the cuts. If the plot of the film could stand on it’s own without relying on the marketing and filmmaking ploy of a single continuous shot, this would have been just fine. Although the bulk of the movie rests on Olsen’s very capable acting, the rest of the film leaves something to be desired.