Movies don't profess to really tell the truth. (Just check the Coen brothers' credentials surrounding Fargo.) But when a movie advertises something that it is not, you have to wonder, as an audience member, whether it's worth being lied to. If the movie is good enough, sure; however, in the case of Silent House, it's nothing short of an insult.
Silent House is based on La Casa Muda, a low-budget 2010 Uruguayan horror film, whose claim to fame is that it was shot in real time in one continuous take. Silent House also claims to employ this technique - one that has only been used effectively in just a few previous films, such as Hitchcock's classic Rope and director Yuri Zeltser's Circle starring Angela Bettis. However, I noticed at least three different cuts and one glaring camera trick, not to mention that the blood on Elizabeth Olsen's face and plunging neckline changed locations from scene to scene. That's not trickery - it's deception.
The skeletal plot revolves around two brothers, John and Peter (Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens) and John's daughter, Sarah (Olsen, the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) renovating their house in the country for sale after squatters have damaged it. The electricity is gone due to varmints or vandalism and there's no cell reception. Cut to inane dialogue to get the ball rolling and viola, we are immediately thrown into scary movie territory with big noises and dad's disappearance. Olsen spends the rest of the movie in ultimate fear mode, which takes its toll on her and, eventually, the audience.
Cinematographer Igor Martinovic keeps the mayhem encompassed in blinking lights and grainy detail while co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who were responsible for 2003's sleeper hit Open Water, keep the action taut. The camera work is spot-on genius at first, and the creepy humming music is generally effective. When the camera stops focusing on Olsen's cleavage, it absorbs you in Sarah's escalating claustrophobia.
Olsen must have been drained after filming this. On the heels of an engrossing performance in her last flick about cult brainwashing (Martha, Marcy, May Marlene), she goes through the wringer again with an exhausting display of panicking meltdowns. Stifling her fear-produced hyperventilation, she holds her breath and swallows her screams to conceal her hidden whereabouts in the dark house - in other words, a lot of cowering. However, Adam Trese (Laws of Gravity) is underused, and Stevens, as Uncle Pete, is one of the worst actors I've ever seen.
It's all about Miss Olsen and her emoting ability, which is fine. But just how many ways can she convince us that she's scared shitless, squelching even the slightest sound while hiding in precarious places from the killers, ghost or whatever? This Olsen should run back to sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley's Full House and leave this silent one far behind.
The requisite slammed doors, weird noises and flickering silhouettes are few and far between. Silent House plays out more like Wait Until Dark than Paranormal Activity. Hallucinatory little girl ghosts and blood pouring evokes The Shining, but in the end it doesn't matter. When we get to the twist, it's not necessarily predictable, but it's certainly pathetic.
As with so many bad scripts, the ending negates all that comes before it. When the last 20 minutes undermine the entire movie, it stands to reason that the movie sucks and the audience has been betrayed. I like a movie that's good enough to make me think - but not one that makes me wonder, "What the hell were they thinking?"
It's a shame, since this flick could have given us something to talk about instead of something to complain about.
1 1/2 Stars
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese,
Eric Sheffer Stevens
Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau