Elizabeth Olsen earned a lot of buzz from her star turn in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, and in the new horror/thriller Silent House, based on the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda, she certainly runs with it. She also leaps, cowers and peeks out at shadowy figures bent on killing her in any number of horrible ways.
Olsen plays Sarah, a girl visiting her dilapidated, boarded-up summer house on the water with her dad and uncle (Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens). They’re there to check the place out and start repairs in order to finally sell it, but after the uncle heads to town, she starts hearing movement in the recesses. Then her dad goes missing. Suddenly, she’s frantically navigating the dark, creaky hallways and staircases in order to keep out of sight of the aforementioned shadowy figures.
Filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, previously of the cautionary sharkfest Open Water, turn to Hitchcock’s Rope for inspiration, by shooting the film in real time, ostensibly in one 85-minute-long shot. (Nervous empathizers of the cast and crew can breathe easy, though. Also like Rope, the film actually splices together a series of long takes via cinematic wizardry.) Yes, it’s kind of a gimmick, but it’s a technique uniquely suited to the thriller genre, and it works very well here. The effect is such that after a while one forgets the camera hasn’t cut—we’re just biting our nails and holding our breath, dreading every corner. Kudos to both the cast and director of photography Igor Martinovic for the intricate choreography that must have gone into putting it all together.
Not surprisingly, the film often relies on the use of heavy silence, interspersed with the occasional strategic thumping or creaking to set the creepy atmosphere. And of course, since the power’s out, most of the lighting is taken care of by whatever flashlights and other light sources are lying around. It’s all very creative and effective.
Olsen’s surging rise to fame is clearly no accident. She has a quiet dignity that makes her very compelling, and as Sarah, she’s on screen about 90 percent of the time, so she damn well better be. If only the film were ultimately as strong as her performance. For one thing, it might be time to put a moratorium on characters who scare each other for laughs, though that’s an incidental gripe at best. What really weakens the film is the unoriginal and disappointing resolution. Horror enthusiasts will likely see it coming from a mile away (everyone else, maybe from half a mile). The premise and clues we’re presented with promise something far more interesting than what we get.
Still, it’s a fun, worthwhile experience seeing how it all comes off, and witnessing a young star in the making. At the very least, perhaps Silent House will teach homeowners to do away with doors that require keys to let you out.
Directors: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Writer: Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
Release Date: March 9, 2012