Directed by: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Premise: A remake of the Uruguayan film. A young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father and uncle repair their summer home but they are haunted by an unseen presence.
What Works: Silent House is a novelty picture. The film is shot and assembled to create the illusion that the entire feature is a single continuous take. With the exception of one clunky edit, the film accomplishes that and for viewers who understand and appreciate filmmaking craft there is a lot to admire about this film. Silent House was co-directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau who had previously made the shark film Open Water which was very frightening because of its documentary qualities. The same is true in Silent House and the film has an immediate, in-the-moment quality that exceeds a lot of found footage pictures. The filmmakers use sound, shadow, and subtle shifts in lighting very well and many of the scenes are choreographed effectively with characters coming in and out of the action at the right time. Silent House’s illusion of continuity works partly because the cinematography and makeup are well done but what really holds the film together is the performance by Elizabeth Olsen. There is virtually no story to Silent House, just a premise, and Olsen has to keep herself in a state of fear for most of the film’s eight-five minute running time. Olsen does that and she creates the illusion of fear without resorting to hysterics. Her character is reasonably smart and acts credibly, given the situation. The real-time illusion of the film assists audience empathy for her character since it prevents us from second guessing her actions the way viewers often do in a traditional haunted house picture.
What Doesn’t: Silent House has some impressive continuity but other aspects of its production are not as remarkable. The film is shot with a handheld camera and the cinematographer does not appear to have used a Steadicam or other device that would have taken the shake out of the image. In parts this becomes very distracting and since this is not a found footage film there is really no reason for the image to be as wobbly as it is in some places. The focus and framing are also an issue. Silent House is composed of very long takes in which the leading lady is in focus in the foreground but the background is so out of focus that it becomes completely indistinct. She is also filmed in extreme close ups and by crowding the frame, the filmmakers miss a lot of opportunities to create anticipation in the empty space around her. And that leads to the bigger problem of Silent House: the film just isn’t very scary. There is an effective atmosphere of dread but it never pays off. The film lacks jump scares and most of what are supposed to be shock moments turn out to be red herrings. A film can do one or two of those, but it gets repetitive and annoying for the viewer. Silent House is most disappointing in its ending. The film uses a twist that has been seen before in a lot of other films and not only is the reversal a well-worn cliché but it is also an annoying storytelling gimmick that undermines the film.
Bottom Line: Silent House is amusing although a lot of other haunted house movies (or actual haunted houses) are scarier than this film. The picture will more likely appeal to those who appreciate its cinematic qualities than those who are looking for a good scare.
Episode: #381 (March 25, 2012)