Directors: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross
Running time: 86 mins
From Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope to Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark, the idea of presenting a film as a single shot has been executed before with extraordinary results. However, like the ‘found footage’ trend before it, a horror movie has come along to remind us that innovative style does not automatically mean a great film.
Silent House is the inevitable American remake of last year’s La Casa Muda, a Uruguayan horror made in ‘real time’, meaning it is composed of long shots seamlessly stitched together to look like it is one continuous take. The remake is directed by Laura Lau and Chris Kentis who are best known for Open Water, another recent ‘low budget/high concept’ horror. The central cast is similarly tiny here, the real star being Elizabeth Olsen who spends the majority of the film alone, and acting surprisingly like a real person. Unlike the Neve Campbells or Jessica Biels of 21st century horror, who attempt to firm up, face their fears and win the day, Olsen’s Sarah just wants to get the hell out of her unfortunate predicament as quickly as possible. Although all the screaming and running lacks the heft of her surprise debut performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, she does well here. Unfortunately the other characters are really just poorly-drawn foils to give her things to do.
The movie’s format means it has to make some stylistic sacrifices, with the occasional bit of dodgy focus and actors not so subtly manoeuvring themselves around the camera crew, but overall it’s a successful exercise in style. Sadly it’s the substance that proves to be the film’s ultimate weakness, in that it has none. The plot is little more than a patchwork of ideas, story beats and even full sequences ‘borrowed’ from other, better films (the makers of Saw should really get the lawyers on the phone over a certain ‘camera flash in a dark room’ sequence). The confusing and nonsensical twists and turns the film takes in its last act only serve to undo any good character work and tension-building done in the rest of the movie. However it’s hard to pile too much blame on Lau and Kentis, as many of the film’s flaws are also present in the Uruguayan original.
While Silent House is technically impressive and Olsen is fun to watch, in every other department it suffers from a fatal lack of originality. If American filmmakers insist on continually remaking foreign horror movies, it would be nice if in future they stuck to ones with an actual story.