Throughout the duration of Silent House, the new horror film from directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, there’s not one iota of enjoyment. Not one joke is uttered. Not one break from the action is realized. Not one second away from the crying eyes of Elizabeth Olsen is experienced. And yet, the movie works wonders.
Sounds like a downer, right? Silent House is definitely best classified as a dramatic horror film, emphasis on the dramatic. The film runs a slim 86 minutes, and its inherent darkness will surely be a turn off for many genre fans. The premise is impossibly simple: There’s a young woman trying to get out of what appears to be a haunted house.
Olsen, sister to the twins, is an effective actor who is able to keep our interest throughout the plotless plot. The filmmakers follow her around with a handheld camera, making us believe we’re witnessing one elongated shot with no edits (after watching the commentary track, it has been confirmed that the movie features edits at strategically chosen places).
Olsen plays Sarah, a character missing a biography. The only things we know about her can be found in the relationship she has with her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens). The three of them are at the family’s old vacation home, a beautiful country house with plenty of dark corridors and creaky stairs. After Sarah’s uncle leaves to get some tools in town, the chaos begins. The lights go out. The locks on the outside doors hold strong, and Sarah’s father drops to the ground. Apparently, there’s someone in the house, and it’s time to get out … quick.
The movie snakes its way toward an inevitable revelation — an ending that is quite disturbing and truly horrific. Whether audience members will still be engaged with the storyline during these final minutes is doubtful. Silent House asks a lot of the viewers, and only a select few will follow the film down the rabbit hole. To have no plot and essentially no characters means we have nothing to identify with.
On a basic instinctual level, we root for Sarah’s survival. But we know nothing about her, and we don’t know what is happening. We’re as in the dark as the characters themselves.
Secondly, there’s only so much running around and teary eyes an audience member can endure. There are several times when one wants to reach through the screen, hold the hand of the protagonist and walk her out of the house toward safety. Sarah, unfortunately, doesn’t act rationally.
Still, there’s a uniqueness and raw filmmaking style to Silent House that makes it endlessly interesting. I almost enjoyed the DVD commentary more than the movie itself, mostly because it described the difficulties of the shooting process, the challenges of having so few edits and the hidden details that tie into the ending. There’s a greater appreciation after hearing from the directors and their vision.
Silent House is not for everyone, but it’s also wholly original (not in subject matter, but in how it tells this simplistic story). Genre fans may point toward Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, which similarly ran in real time. This storytelling choice makes the movie a cut above the rest of mundanity out there. It’s rare to spend almost 90 minutes with a single character, never leaving her side, never looking away. This means we grow closer to her and hope for her safety, but it still leaves a contextual hole.
I’m as confounded by Silent House as I was after watching Catfish, a disturbing documentary from a few years ago. There’s such a great cinematic experience here (with several good scares), but the sum of the individual parts doesn’t add up to much. The movie is for the adventurous and those looking for something different. Paint-by-numbers this is not. Kudos for the courage to try something different.
By John Soltes / Publisher / [email protected]
Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Written by Lau; based on La Casa Muda
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer
Running time: 86 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content and terror