By R. David
Published March 9, 2012
This week, instead of the “found footage’ gimmick currently being affixed to at least one film per month, “Silent House” offers up a new experiment: Will a rather traditional horror flick be any more interesting to audiences if it’s presented as one unbroken, real-time camera shot? I’m not sure why it would, as one shot or a hundred shots has nothing to do with little things like a compelling story, convincing performances or effective scares. But audiences routinely settle for less as long as there’s a splashy gimmick attached, so the answer, perhaps, is ‘yes’. As for whether or not the movie meets all those other pesky film-making requirements; not so much.
Elizabeth Olsen, a revelation who gave an Oscar-buzz-igniting performance in last year’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, stars as Sarah, a teenager who, along with her father (Adam Trese) and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), finds herself terrorized in their secluded (and dilapidated) summer house by an unknown and unseen assailant. “Silent House” is essentially a whodoneit (or rather, a who’s-doing-it?). Immediately, well-trained audiences will start coming up with possible suspects and scenarios: Is it the vandalizing squatters we told may frequent the house? The odd-duck childhood friend Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) who shows up seemingly out of nowhere? The unfaithful boyfriend Sarah is willing to give a second chance but her father can’t stand? Is it all in her head? Or is it simply a random attacker who sees a teenage girl in a remote location as easy prey, as in so many similar horror flicks?
It won’t take savvy audience members very long to figure “Silent House” out. But that is the least of the film’s problems. None of the the conversations or dialog in this film feel the least bit natural. In fact, the line readings by the entire cast, save for Olsen are, often strikingly amateurish and obnoxious. Olsen fares better than the rest of the cast, but she is generally wasted thanks to script that gives her little of interest to do or say. We are provided with this all-important tidbit, however: None of the phone lines in the house are activated and cell phones don’t work. Natch. It’s all barely one step above your average campy 80s slasher flick (Dad even utters the proverbial kiss-of-death cliche: “I’ll be right back.” – clearly, no one in this house has ever seen “Scream”.)
The filmmakers fail to provide any justifiable reason for the “unbroken shot” gimmick (it is not presented as “found” or any other sort of actual footage, so why shoot it as such?) in “Silent House”, but the camera work – and music – is often rather effective at creating tension. The camera never seems to be looking quite where you want it to, or is a beat late at panning over to investigate whatever that ‘thud’ was; which is frustrating but an effective tactic for keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Still, what begins as an efficiently creepy, low-budget exercise quickly devolves into what feels like an aimless journey as the film wears on and the camera continually lopes in and out of the same dark rooms and up and down the same hallways, eventually draining all the suspense from the concept and all life from the film itself.
Olsen is able to rise above the material, but she is required to do little more than wear a tight tank top and panic in full-on scream queen mode. They could have changed the the name of this thing to “Cleavage and Crying”. The film’s ending is either ambitious or laughable depending on your preference for such “reveals”, however it is the only time during ‘Silent House” where the screenwriters seem to be interested in thinking outside the box. But that’s what happens when you build a film from a gimmick up.
2 stars out of 4.