The folks behind "Open Water" have hit on another clever, entertaining premise with "Silent House."
Elizabeth Olsen plays Sarah, who is helping her dad and uncle fix up a crumbling mansion that is silent only if you don't count Sarah's screaming, the loud banging, the footsteps of people running from something terrifying and the murmuring, indistinct voices. Early on, Sarah and her dad get trapped in the house, where there's no electricity and no cellphone service, always a convenient thing in modern horror movies. They spend the remainder of the film stumbling around in the dark and trying to figure out what violent spectres are menacing them.
A haunted-house movie is always welcome in my book, and directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau dress it up with an ingenious conceit: "Silent House" has been shot so it appears to be one, unbroken 85-minute take that follows Sarah around as she tries to escape. Because "Silent House" appears to be taking place in real time, there aren't any of those moments when jaded moviegoers know the camera is cutting away so, for instance, a special effect can be inserted. "Silent House" appears to be happening in front of our eyes without any trickery, and the result is that we believe in it more than most scary movies. And that means it is scarier.
The scare factor is also helped by Olsen's impressive performance. I liked her a lot as a blank cult survivor in last year's unnerving "Martha Marcy May Marlene," but she's fantastic in
this technically challenging role. Required to perform lengthy takes repeatedly while walking directly at the camera and stumbling around in almost darkness, Olsen nevertheless creates a perfectly calibrated, emotionally credible character. She should probably be credited for lighting design, too, because most of the movie is lit by a lantern she holds. From initial worry to final frenzy, Olsen is right on target in every minute of "Silent House."
I will confess there are a few of those minutes I'm not so crazy about. Like many thrillers, the setup of "Silent House" is more compelling than the payoff. But "Silent House" has built up enough good will by that point that the slight letdown hardly matters. In fact, the first 75 minutes are so good, there may have been no way for the last 10 to live up to them.
- Chris Hewitt
Directed by: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese
Rated: R, for violence and language
Should you go? If you have a taste for psychological horror, you should. ***