Silent House is the latest horror film by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, of the Open Water fame. It differentiates itself from other horror films by being presented entirely in one-take, which means the camera never stops rolling from start to finish. It also features rising actress Elizabeth Olsen. It’s initially a very spooky film, relying on its ominous musical score and little lighting to paint a brooding picture, but quickly the film becomes a tired technical exercise. For the most part it’s filmed with stability and purpose, but it often times strays off and suffers from the same problems that most found-footage films have. It has a ridiculous twist ending that’s not only obvious, but completely overcomplicated and unnecessary and to top it all off the “shaky cam” makes a big appearance, cancelling out all of the excellent shots that came before it.
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father John (Adam Trese) are fixing up a family lake home. They haven’t been to the home in ages, but have decided to fix it up and sell it. They’re joined by Sarah’s uncle, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), who offers his brother a hand with some of the fix ups. The house is boarded up, due to vandals breaking all of the windows. To make things even creepier, the lights are on the fritz, which means the only way to navigate the dark hallways is flashlights and candles. Things get heavy real quick when Sarah starts to hear noises and her dad goes to investigate. The rest of the plot is best left a secret.
Silent House has all of the makings for an instant horror classic, yet it somehow royally messes it all up. You’ve got the beautiful Elizabeth Olsen coming off of an Oscar caliber role in Martha Marcy May Marlene to lead the film. You’ve also got the pairing of directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau heading the project. The two worked together on the out-at-sea horror film Open Water, which made the best of its surroundings. The film is presented as one-take, which means the tension should be at a constant all-time high.
All of these key ingredients and it still struggles being a noteworthy horror film. It has no problems finding its footing with the creepy musical score combined with odd noises that frequent the house. The low lighting helps make the environment that much more unknown, making the first few jump-scares effective, but the more Olsen wanders around the house the more you become bored with the film. The music goes from being good ambiance to obvious scare cues.
The same can be said with the whole one-take aspect. It starts out promising, providing you with a sort of attachment to Olsen’s character, but then the film uses the tactic to jump back between being an over-the-shoulder third person film to being a shaky cam disaster. There’s a certain point when Olsen’s character is running outside and the camera completely loses it. It doesn’t show her physical state of being or lack of mental stability, it instead shows you what it looks like when the directors play a game of catch with the camera.
This all leads to an overcomplicated “twist” ending that completely ruins it. It undersells the whole film and it discredits everything about the simplicity that originally worked for the film. It’s a complete turn in the opposite direction and it feels like they only went that way because they wanted to shock the viewers.
Let’s not forget that Silent House is a remake of the 2010 film titled The Silent House. So we can scratch off originality points because the entire film, including the one-take presentation, was ripped off from another film.
It’s hard recommending Silent House because of all the flaws that are gapingly present. The film starts out really good, taking full advantage of the environment and one-take presentation. Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have no problem establishing a tone and keeping the atmosphere thick with scares around every corner, but that quickly wears out its welcome. Elizabeth Olsen does what she can with her role, but it ultimately amounts to nothing because of the direction the film heads in.
I still think the best way to experience the film is at the local theater, because horror films are best experienced in a dark (and hopefully quiet) room with a big screen. I’m also willing to bet that no one is going to seek out the original film and watch it in its native language. So yeah, check out Silent House if you’re in the mood for some quick scares and passable horror, but don’t go looking for anything deeper.
Silent House – 7/10