Thursday, January 3, 2013



review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Written by Laura Lau (screenplay)

Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, and Julia Taylor Ross

There's something primal about the fear we experience when we're alone in the dark but can sense something stalking us just out of sight.

In this respect, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau manage to wring some dread out of Silent House -- an independently produced terror tale that unfolds inside a spooky, dilapidated house in one uninterrupted take -- but the film simply cannot surmount the fact that it is predicated on a recycled gimmick and is about as tepid as American horror remakes come these days.    

How often do you think Olsen is mistakenly asked to recite, "You got it, dude"?
 In Silent House, Elizabeth Olsen (yes, one of those Olsen sisters, but not one of the twins from Full House) stars as a young woman who accompanies her father and creepy uncle on a trip to fix up their isolated and dilapidated lakeside vacation home. There's no electricity, and all the windows are boarded up. As they work by the light of candles and flashlights cleaning out a decades worth of stuff, a violent presence begins stalking the family from the shadows. Soon they find themselves locked in, unable to escape, and are forced to face the house's not-so-quiet past.

Silent House is a remake of the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda which was also filmed in one take -- shot in real time without any cuts, or so the filmmakers claim -- yet the American version's attempt to ape this single-shot aesthetic is only an illusion of editing according to the the director and cast, who have since come forward to contradict the film's own marketing. Nevertheless, what matters is whether Silent House is scary and whether it's "uninterrupted take" presentation adds anything to the film. To both these questions, this reviewer can only shake his head in disappointment.

The Silent House present: horror by lamplight
Olsen does a commendable job as our young victim in peril-- crying so much in hysterics she must have made herself sick on set -- but she's a painfully passive character. Although she's a beautiful young woman with some clear acting chops, she's not given much to do rather than look terrified and watery-eyed. As a character, things just happen to her. She doesn't really manage to learn anything or effect the story in a tangible way. The bulk of the movie instead follows her as she runs in panic and stumbles through a dark house -- and I do mean follows. Despite a gorgeous crane shot at the beginning of the movie, most of the action is filmed from a boring hand-held camera that follows Olsen over the shoulder. Unlike a video game, however, these extended takes and over-the-shoulder tracking shots actually work against immersing the audience in her experience. It gets tedious, to say the least. Silent House might as well be yet another shoddy POV movie with how much the camera shakes and spins nauseatingly. The movie's so dark that it's almost impossible to see what's going on. So much for cinematography these days.

Cut. It. Out.
And worst of all, the film's meandering plot is hinged on a cheap twist. I won't spoil it here, but this particular twist is a real pet peeve of mine. Rarely is it executed well. Basically, it's the kind of twist that allows the script writer to do whatever she wants and justify it retroactively in the end. Silent House doesn't earn its twist -- a truly disturbing revelation neither borne out by the film's mediocre style nor sufficiently developed. It takes the film into a whole new territory that it's not even ballsy enough to follow up on. It's a twist to make even M. Night Shyamalan cry foul.

Despite some brilliant flashes of truly disturbing nightmare imagery and one or two scenes of domestic terror, Silent House certainly didn't elicit much noise from this reviewer be they screams or laughs.

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