Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), along with her father and uncle, head for an old, crumbling lakehouse retreat, to pack things up and get ready to sell it. Not long after arriving, Sarah gets a visit from a young woman claiming to be an old friend, although Sarah can’t remember her. Soon Sarah finds herself trapped in the house and someone or something seems to be in there with her, trying to get her.
The setup for the plot of fairly simple and generic, but that’s probably as it should be, because with the movie’s formal conceit, it might have become unmanageable if it got too complex on the story front to quickly. The main interest in the film is that it’s shot to look like it was made in one single take (although it’s actually several long takes stitched together), following Sarah as she becomes trapped in the house and things become ever stranger and more disturbing.
Initially it works quite well, with the one shot conceit ensuring you’re thrust into Sarah’s world as things quickly go from normal to terrifying and she runs around the house screaming, hearing footsteps and apparently being stalked. There are a fair few make-you-jump moments, and it’s all anchored by an excellent performance from Elizabeth Olsen, who would get an Oscar is there was an award for ‘Best Hyperventilating’.
Indeed, for about the first 50 minutes I was wondering why this hadn’t gotten a bigger release and more buzz, as it builds tension very well, and while you could complain about some shots going out of focus, it works well to bring you inside the fear Sarah is experiencing, while you wonder what on earth is going on. However then things start getting ever weirder, and as it becomes clearer where the movie is going, it’s difficult not to feel a little let down.
From something interesting and tense it quickly descends into something that feels rather standard and silly as the explanations are revealed and they’re nothing we haven’t seen before. The film seems to hope that the one-shot idea will pull it through, but ultimately while a horror film can get away with withholding story initially, the explanation has to stand up and satisfy. Silent House’s doesn’t. Indeed it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. The movie seems to want you to think back over the movie and revisit your assumptions about what’s been going on and what actually happened, but that just raises more questions than it answers. It’s one of those relatively unusual cases where something simpler would have probably worked better than what’s attempted here.
Open Water directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau should be complimented for their chutzpah (although it is a remake of a Uruguayan movie, which used the same ideas and one-shot conceit), but sadly while the first part of the movie works well and Olsen is excellent, the ending undermines it.
There’s not much in the way of special features, just a trailer and a short but creepy film that won a ‘Shooting People’ prize, and gives The Ring a bit of a smart phone twist.
Overall Verdict: Silent House is a good idea done well for about an hour, but the final 20 minutes unravel the tension and intrigue of everything that’s gone before.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac