Silent House is an independent American horror film written by Laura Lau and directed by Lau and Chris Kentis (the creators of Open Water). It is a remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film of the same name, which was allegedly based on a true incident. This tense, unnerving film delivers scares, but also features some astounding use of the camera.
Elizabeth Olsen stars as Sarah, a young woman who has returned to her family’s secluded lake house to help her father and uncle clean up the place in preparation for sale. When Sarah finds herself locked inside the house with no means of escape, her panic soon turns to terror when her situation becomes increasingly ominous and she realises she is not alone.
The real-time, single-shot element is Silent House’s primary draw card and the idea allows Lau and Kentis to utilise some clever tricks to create the illusion of such a feat. Though comprised (and often seamlessly) of a series of lengthy shots cut together, they are individually impressive. The appearance of playing out in real-time, with the exception of a quicker-than-expected nightfall, is relatively convincing. But calculating the graceful choreography and swift mobility around the house’s hallways, stairways and cluttered rooms, as well as managing the complexity of the cues, would have required a lot of pre-production work.
There are terrific scares; genuine and well earned, making great use of sparse lighting and available sound effects and a real sense of mystery surrounding the figures that stalk Sarah around the house. Are they her imagination? Or, with the huge place empty for a long time, have sinister beings been living within?
There are some early plausibility issues that can come under scrutiny, but for this ambitious premise to work - the use of a dark house that requires lanterns and torches as the soul source of light, and a general understanding of the make-up of the place before the terrors start - there are some necessary setups. The way these are integrated into the plot is one notable criticism. Some of Sarah’s actions (the locking of a door, the lighting of lanterns which are then placed around the living room to provide better general illumination, and a search of the entire upper levels of the house following a noise) exist for no reason but to introduce the setting.
While the supporting cast is mediocre at best, Elizabeth Olsen delivers another fantastic performance. The terror evident in her face is utterly convincing. Often she has to change her emotion multiple times without the camera even leaving her face, which is impressive. With her breakthrough work in Martha Marcy May Marlene and an equally mature turn opposite Josh Radnor in next month’s Liberal Arts, she is a terrific talent. What the filmmakers do so well is closely align us with Sarah, so that as we witness her fear, and experience her desperate attempts to evade her tormentors, we feel it too.
If you’re looking for a decent psychological horror, be sure to check out Silent House. Blessed with inventive feats of photography and technical wizardry, an often-palpitating level of terror and tension and a strong performance from Olsen, it's easy to overlook some of the shortcomings.
[rating=3] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Distributed through Icon Entertainment, Silent House is available to rent and purchase on DVD and Blu-ray from December 16.