Silent House Directed by: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau Cast: Elizabeth Olsen Running Time: 1 hr 28 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: March 9, 2012
PLOT: A young woman (Olsen) runs for her life throughout her dark house in the woods when it receives unwelcome guests.
WHO'S IT FOR? Silent House is especially for those who are learning about filmmaking and are impressed by one takes. The story is for multiplex moviegoers who feel like they have seen this scenario before. Also bound to wring in some teenagers in general, Silent House is artful work for the Devil Inside generation.
EXPECTATIONS: Hmm ... an ominously titled film done in one take, and with a PG-13 rating? Was this going to be the Russian Ark of teen horror movies? And just how impressive was Elizabeth Olsen going to be in her second seen performance?
Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah: For those who have yet to see her praiseworthy performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, this is a fine introduction to the third Olsen sister. Olsen, often at the center of Silent House, is able to carry the movie through its many creepy hallways and tense moments, without appearing like she's running a simple campaign for scream queen. Olsen is talented at presenting wordless fear, whether she is simply using or face or muting her urge to scream for her life. Her presence lacks any ham or ditziness; like a good damsel in distress we soon give her our greatest sympathy for being in such a terrible situation. Score: 6
TALKING: Relying on visuals and performance much more than words, dialogue is a low priority for Silent House. Especially once the fear within the film kicks, the generic dialogue might as well have been wholly improvised. Score: 3
SIGHTS: Aside from Olsen, the biggest appeal of Silent House is probably that the movie appears to be captured in one take - as in, no edits, with the camera rolling non-stop through the entirety of the film's running time. With this technique, Silent House is able to provide a very clear point of view for the audience, which does help us in feeling like we are not just witnessing the events, but are in the house (the home's geography can even be recollected). Aside from its general mission, this is not a one-take camera that pulls many stunts. You won't find truly impressive movement of a single camera (like that famous shot in Goodfellas, among many others), but more a display of organization - the cinematography is mostly a testament to the directors' ability to pioneer a tight ship. And still, even with such a daring feat (especially for a movie of this type), there's not an immediate guarantee that this was absolutely done in one take. Score: 6
SOUNDS: With barely any music, Silent House is a movie that relies heavily on sound design. There are lots of creaky floors, things crashing to the ground, etc. In other movies it may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but considering this movie's one-take attitude, the sound does contribute towards making Silent House an aesthetically believable experience. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Though it worked better in Rear Window, the flash camera trick provides audiences of Silent House fully immersed, breath-gasping tension. It's the only moment in which my screening audience seemed to be united by fearfulness.
ENDING: After all that visual labor, Silent House pulls a dumb twist like it's 1999, immediately challenging your attitude towards the movie entirely. Even if parts of the twist do connect with the previous events of the story, it's the type of ending that seems to be pulled off a hundred times every year, and done only right once.
QUESTIONS: How many rehearsals and failed attempts did this project ultimately require? What people of financial power nodded in acceptance at this ending? Is this just an American bastardization of the original Uruguayan movie, which was a contender for last year's "Best Foreign Film" Oscar?
REWATCHABILITY: There's nothing about the story that could make Silent House worth a strong second viewing. Possibly to indulge some skepticism, I'd watch the movie again to track how many opportunities there were for cuts.
The elements are in place for Silent House - it's got a capable leading actress, (Olsen) and a unique tactic of presenting a tired scenario. While there is some tediousness throughout the story, these two strong elements do lead to some palpable fear. Yes, creaky floors and slow-burning editing can still garner nearly nail-biting tension.
Yet in the end this carefully put together experiment is botched by its clumsy resolution, which by no means matches the engineering put into any of the movie's other components. It doesn't even benefit the story, but lessen its total impact. You thought the cinematography trick could be considered a gimmick? Just wait until you see how the Silent House script tries to explain itself.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10