The creators of Silent House have promised audiences two things and delivered neither of them. Co directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have marketed their new movie as a tale of haunted-house-style horror shot in one continuous, unedited take. It isn’t and it wasn’t.
Things start out promisingly enough. The opening shot looks down on the principal player, Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), from a height as she lingers by a lake. Aware of the one-take premise, the viewer can’t help but wonder how the camera operators will return to earth and track the ground-level action as it proceeds toward and into the titular vacation home — and can’t help but be impressed when they do so seamlessly.
Olsen’s character, we learn, is helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) fix up the family’s summer place to put it on the market. Vagrants have damaged the home, which is why the windows are boarded up and the interior looks like somebody just shot a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel there and bolted out the back door.
Rats have eaten through the wiring, so everybody carries lamps or flashlights in the constant dark. The nearest neighbor is miles away, and it goes without saying there’s no cellphone signal. All of which makes this a prime location for a bump-in-the-night-athon.
And, for the first hour or so, that’s what we get. Olsen proved in Martha Marcy May Marlene that she’s a remarkable actress with impressive range, so it’s no surprise that coming up with a series of expressions that convey terror proves a piece of cake for her. These come in handy when Sarah begins to hear ominous noises, the men in the house disappear one after the other and a briefly glimpsed intruder pursues her from hiding place to hiding place in the locked home.
So far, so fun. The no-cut-away conceit forces the camera to focus on what Sarah sees and, alternately, on her reactions. This gives the viewer a sense of sharing the increasingly creepy, claustrophobic ordeal with her, and, had the filmmakers maintained this course, Silent House might well have wound up one of the year’s finest horror films.
Unfortunately, they didn’t. The most shocking thing in the movie, in fact, is a third-act twist that defies good sense while insulting the audience’s intelligence. The cardinal sin, where these late-in-the-game surprises are concerned, is failing to make them logical in the context of everything that’s happened beforehand. The twist in this picture is so imbecilically conceived, it actually renders every scary moment leading up to it impossible. Minor detail.
Oh, and the whole business about shooting the film in one long take, à la Hitchcock’s Rope? Another minor detail: It never happened. Silent House may be said to unfold in 88 minutes of real time, as its advertising claims. But those 88 minutes were choreographed and filmed in 13 separate increments, which means they averaged approximately six minutes apiece. Longer than a typical shot, but a far cry from the movie’s running time.
Kentis and Lau proved themselves masters of the psychological thriller with Open Water, so it’s confounding to find them so lost at sea. The choice of source material certainly didn’t help. Their latest is a remake of a 2010 Uruguayan horror film entitled La Casa Muda, which I believe should really translate to “Stupid House.” Given how dumbed down things have gotten at the cineplex lately, it wouldn’t surprise me should Silent House translate into major box office, but that won’t save it from being a waste of time in any language.