Silent House, directed by Chris Kentis (Open Water) and Laura Lau, is an American remake of a Uruguayan film that sets its premise around the notion that the film is done all in one take. I have not seen the Uruguayan film and therefore will not be commenting on how the films compare/contrast. I went into Silent House with little knowledge of the story and I was anticipating a competent experience. Part of that competence I expected from Elizabeth Olsen who has gotten attention lately for her role in Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene. Olsen did turn out to be one of the better aspects of the film but she became lost in other issues the film had. Silent House is fantastic with its “one-take” premise, but poor writing and a horrible payoff make this film avoidable.
Silent House opens with Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) staring out into the water and then progressing back the house that she is staying in. Her father, John (Adam Trese), pulls up and talks about his day while he and Sarah head into the house. At the door they are greeted by John’s brother (Sarah’s Uncle), Peter (Eric Stevens), and he claims that there is a problem with something in the walls. The house is under reconstruction after rats chewed through the electrical wires and the brothers are trying to fix up the place so that it can be sold. Peter points out mold growing in the wall, which could mean something worse if it has spread. Peter and John then go downstairs to look into where else the mold could be. After a bit, Peter comes back upstairs and is mad at John. Peter leaves suddenly and after a few minutes, Sarah thinks she hears something upstairs. It is soon apparent that they aren’t the only ones in the house.
I guess the cinematography is what I should speak about first because that is the promoted aspect of the film. Hands down, the greatest thing about Silent House is that is filmed in one take. This means there are no visible cuts, the camera moves around the film seamlessly as it follows Sarah around for ninety minutes. Now I can’t believe that the film was done without cuts; it is made to look as such but it is highly unbelievable. There are some key moments where you could see a cut being made without it being noticeable. I am not going to debate or try to prove that it is one way or another but it SEEMS to be done in one take. It’s mesmerizing to watch and because it’s all happening in “real time,” there are little clues visually as to what is going on. Due to the fact that the camera follows Sarah around in the film, it feels a bit like found-footage. This can make for a hampered experience and some scenes are frustrating but Silent House is truly remarkable for what it accomplishes visually.
Silent House is paced rather well; the beginning is scenic and idyllic with large country house by the water. Then you (the viewer) go inside the house and it becomes dark and grimy. The few times the film does go outside, it feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the cluttered house. The level of suspense is consistently high because you can never pinpoint the noises or understand what is going on. There is one moment that takes place in the basement that had me clutching at my legs because it was so intense, and there are a few other key times when this happens. Silent House builds suspense well, but at some point, it derails.
It’s hard to base your thoughts on an entire movie because of the ending, but Silent House features one of the most overused tropes in horror to reach its conclusion. Silent House doesn’t make much sense to begin with but the ending simplifies and complicates the movie at the same time. Of course I can’t tell you why that is, but the payoff is frustrating. I was yelling in my head at the “revelation” and I left the theater with anger pulsating through my veins. But the ending is not the only problem with Silent House, the dialogue is laughable at times and the characters seem to be saying lines from a commercial. Both Adam Trese and Eric Steven are forgettable and I felt annoyed with the appearance on screen. Olsen does a great job up to a certain point, but in the end scenes, I felt embarrassed for her at how terrible she was acting. I mean, I guess they could only do so many “takes” but by the end of Silent House, I felt that the actors just wanted it to be over as well.
Silent House was a bizarre experience. I really loved the “play” with the camera, Olsen is awesome (till the end), and there were some genuinely frightening moments. The film fell apart with its bad script and horrible supporting actors. The ending made me want to fly into a rage. I thought we had learned from these bad-movie mistakes, but I guess not. Silent House should be avoided in theaters, even the “one-take” trick is not worth twelve bucks. It’s avoidable, and it’s a shame too because I was excited about this movie. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to wait a few more months for a good horror film. Sigh.