Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Distributed by Universal Home Entertainment
Elizabeth Olsen, the talented young actress who headlined last year’s subtle, unnerving indie thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, returns to dark cinema with the decidedly more horrific Silent House. As with her work in Martha, Olsen creates a wholly believable character in House, fully investing the audience and never once allowing her acting to ring false (quite a feat considering the shooting conditions and nature of the story). It’s a powerhouse of a performance and one of the best I’ve seen this year in any genre.
Unfortunately, she’s the best thing about the movie.
A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan chiller La Casa Muda, Silent House borrows not only the story from that earlier film, but also its chief technical conceit: It appears to be filmed in one long, unbroken take. I say “appears” as the filming was actually broken up into segments (much like Alfred Hitchcock’s fantastic Rope some sixty years ago). And, much like the original film, the remake has numerous weaknesses, including a final act reveal which is utterly groan-worthy.
SPOILER – Please understand it’s not that I have anything against the “unreliable narrator/hero” convention in movies. In fact I love quite a few of those (Fight Club and High Tension spring to mind). It’s just that a story like that should/must exist for reasons other than to simply deliver a “gotcha!” at the climax. – END SPOILER
The film finds Olsen playing Sarah, a young woman helping her father, John (Trese), and uncle, Peter (Stevens), fix up an aging vacation home to sell. Peter eventually leaves while John and Sarah stick around to continue their work. Before long strange noises are heard throughout the house. John investigates, only to disappear, leaving Sarah alone. As she searches the house for him, the sounds become more and more ominous and threatening. Sarah eventually discovers the unconscious body of her now-brutalized father and attempts to escape the house, only to discover that she’s locked in. A cat-and-mouse game ensues between Sarah and…well, who? Is the threat supernatural in nature or not? Is the villain merely a dangerous squatter? Or perhaps a vengeful ghost? Stalking psychopath or angry spirit? The answer, while potentially intriguing, is ultimately just as disappointing as it was in the original film (if a bit more elaborate).
Directors Kentis and Lau do a fine job of presenting their tale in one take and pulling strong performances from their cast (especially Olsen, though Trese, Stevens, and Ross all put in good work as well). I’m very much a fan of their previous film, the nerve-shredding sharkfest Open Water, and I had been hoping that their take on La Casa Muda’s story would improve upon its failings significantly. Indeed, they do repair many of the original film’s minor flaws and do a better job of delivering the film’s twist with a bit more information (Muda’s ending was maddeningly ambiguous), but…well, forgive the punny metaphor, but the foundations of their House are just as weak as the earlier model’s. Even with the film’s short running time, the movie is overly long with a few too many scenes playing out as dull rather than tense. And, if this film proves anything, it’s that this tale’s ending is never going to work, no matter how much talent you throw at it.
As I’ve seen the film both in the theatre and on disc, I can attest that Universal Home Entertainment’s transfer is faithful to its big screen exhibition. The image is generally quite sharp, though the blacks are usually a bit washed out (a shame, considering a good deal of the movie is shrouded in darkness and shadows). Likewise, the audio does a great job of reproducing the film’s impressive sound design, from the tiniest of creaks to the shrillest of shrieks.
The only bonus feature provided is an audio commentary with Kentis and Lau. Both seem nice enough (even if Lau is occasionally exasperated with Kentis’ interruptions throughout) and have a pleasant chat while the movie runs. However, a listener can only hear how difficult a time the camera operator had or how the film is meant to be seen through Sarah’s eyes so many times before reaching for the fast-forward button. A more thorough examination of the film’s relationship to its predecessor would have been welcome, along with a making-of documentary or the genuinely disturbing trailer, but oh well.
Ultimately, I’d recommend that you give this movie a pass, except…well, Olsen’s performance is quite something and really should be seen by genre fans. If only the film was operating at her level, we’d likely have a minor classic here. So if you can spare the eighty-eight minutes, you may want to give Silent House a look.
2 out of 5
1 out of 5