What do you get when you take The Strangers, combine it with The Amityville Horror, and add a dash of Hitchcock’s classicRope? Well, you sort of get Silent House, the newest thriller from 2003’s low budget hitOpen Water filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.
Silent House, which is much improved from the directing duo’s previous effort from almost nine years ago, stars Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, who is helping her dad and her uncle renovate the family’s summer home so that they can sell it. The creepy tone is set from the beginning, and it does not take long before strange things start happening. Since the house is being renovated, there is no electricity in the house and most of the windows are boarded up, which sets the tone for the horror that will ensue, as Sarah is stalked in her home by unknown intruders.
Although the film is far from perfect, what sets it apart from other horror flicks is the performance of Elizabeth Olsen. Although prior to a year ago Olsen was probably better known for her last name (she is the younger sister of 90’s superstars Mary-Kate and Ashley), her performance in Silent House, coupled with her breakout performance in controversial 2011 film Martha Marcy May Marlene, will certainly help establish her as a fantastic actress in her own right.
One other element that separates Silent House is the fact that it takes place in real time. The movie is 88 minutes long, and it is comprised of one, long 88-minute take. Well, not really. It is actually more like 10 shots with hidden cuts to make it seem like an 88-minute take (much like the previously mentionedRope), but the good news is that it never feels like a gimmick. While staying with Olsen’s character throughout the film in continuous fashion is not essential to the story, it does add to the drama of the film, and makes the audience feel like there is nowhere to hide.
Much of this style should be attributed to Cinematographer Igor Martinovic, who is actually better known for his work on documentaries like The Tillman Storyand Man on Wire. This documentary feeling comes through in Silent House in the lighting and the handheld camera that almost feels like another character in the room. Although there are times when the frenetic camera work does draw attention to itself (there are scenes vaguely similar to the Blair Witch Project in which Olsen is running and the camera is just trying to keep up, which might cause motion sickness to those with weak stomachs), the overall result of the camera work is effective.
But is it scary? Yes. There are several scenes in this film that are truly terrifying. Throughout the majority of the film, the audience has no idea who or what is stalking Sarah in her home (which works, making the audience literally see the movie through her eyes). Is it a ghost? Is it an intruder? Is it something else? It is not until much later in the film that we get a better idea what exactly is happening.
In terms of scares, there are many. There are several scenes in which Sarah finds herself hiding under some object that is not quite big enough to hide her, where the camera is literally inches away from her face. The impetus for the main poster of the film is derived from one of these scenes, which finds Sarah hiding under a bed, with the Stalking Man (as he is credited, played by Adam Barnett) walking slowly around her. We feel Sarah’s pain, as she wants to scream, but she cannot make a noise. So she mimes screaming, hoping that the Stalking Man will leave the room. There is another scene in which the generator in the attic (providing some electricity for a lamp in the room) goes out, and Sarah must crawl her way through the house with absolutely no light, aside from the flash of a Polaroid camera. Darkness, darkness, darkness. FLASH. Empty hallway. Darkness, darkness, darkness. FLASH. Empty bedroom. Darkness, darkness, darkness. I bet you can guess what comes on the third flash.
As was mentioned earlier, the film is far from perfect. The performances aside from Elizabeth Olsen’s are fairly forgettable (granted, the other characters are not given nearly as much to do), and the film takes a while to get going. Also, without giving anything away, the ending makes the rest of the film weaker. While it is very tense and quite scary, when all is said and down, you feel slightly let down. Silent House is still worth a watch though, if not just for the great performance of newcomer Elizabeth Olsen and a few chilling moments.
Movie Review by Mike Danner