Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Written by Laura Lau (screenplay)
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens
Horror fans will find themselves in a familiar position when they watch Silent House, a film that does an excellent job building tension and dread, but ultimately succumbs to an unsatisfying ending that cheapens the overall experience. Why do so many horror films fall apart in the last ten minutes? It’s frustrating to experience the exhilaration of a well-executed tale of creeping dread, only to watch your well-earned admiration dissolve when the movie takes an easy out. Such is the case with Silent House, a film I will still give an enthusiastic recommendation to, because when it is good, it is very good. I’m an adamant fan of the horror genre, and sometimes, I take my scares where I can get them.
Silent House is a collaboration between directors Laura Lau and Chris Kentis, the team that brought us Open Water, a film that was equally lauded and criticized when it came out in 2003 (Kentis wrote and Lau produced and served as cinematographer). I adored the terrifying story that featured a couple accidentally left in the middle of the ocean when a tourist scuba diving boat overlooks them. Even though the film leaves much to the imagination, I bit my nails to the quick and vowed to never sign up for a scuba day trip for the rest of my life. The ambiguous ending infuriated some, but I thought it was the perfect ending for the film. Now the filmmakers seem to be so intent on delivering a neatly wrapped up ending that they allow the entire story to suffer as a consequence. Damnit. Stick to your instincts that served you so well the first time.
Silent House is essentially a haunted house movie. It features a (still) terrific Elizabeth Olsen, who impressively cut her acting teeth last year in the excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene. Olsen leaves little doubt that she is truly a gifted actress. Martha Marcy was no fluke. She elevates the material to another level, and the filmmakers are lucky to have had her talents; with a lesser actress, this material would have been mere crap.
Olsen plays Sarah, a young woman who returns to a family lake house with her father John (Adam Trese) and her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) with the intention of getting the house ready to put on the market. Previous mold infestations and some pesky squatters have resulted in the house being boarded up over every possible point of entry. Of course, the blockades are equally effective at keeping people in the house, as well as out. Over the course of a day, it becomes apparent to Sarah that they are not alone in the house. Since all the windows are boarded up, the old house is in a constant state of darkness, requiring Sarah and her relatives to carry lanterns and flashlights at all times. There is no differentiation between day and night in the house, one of the more effective gimmicks the film utilizes.
Sarah is ultimately terrorized by someone (or something) in the house, and when her father and uncle are removed from the equation, she must rely on her instinct and wit to survive until she can find a way out of the locked-up house. Olsen is tremendously effective as the damsel in distress; her fear is palpable and pervasive. She reacted exactly as I would have under the circumstances, stifling silent screams while she hides instead of shrieking like the idiots we normally see in horror films. There are still the requisite boob shots, but they consist of Olsen wearing a low cut t-shirt, so they don’t feel as obnoxious as usual.
Silent House plays as a slow-burning tension builder (think House of the Devil), so it will not appeal to everyone, particularly when the payoff is minimal, but the continuous shot method of filming is interesting if you can stomach some shaky-cam cinematography. The two male actors are underwhelming, but this is Olsen’s show. I think she is in every frame of the movie, and she is mesmerizing. The film is worth a watch if you are a genre fan. – Shannon