Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross
Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Laura Lau, Gustavo Hernandez (Based on film by)
Open Road Films
Commentary by Co-director Chris Kentis and screenwriter/co-director Laura Lau.
By now, nearly everyone is aware that I believe Elizabeth Olsen to have been robbed of an Oscar nomination this past month for her electrifying work in the equally snubbed and wonderful Martha Marcy May Marlene. Filmed prior to that highly acclaimed performance, Silent House is no doubt a lesser cinematic effort in virtually every way for Olsen but, at the same time, only serves to remind us all what an immense talent she is and what a career she should have ahead of her.
Based upon a 2010 Uruguayan horror flick called "La Casa Muda," Silent House starts off with a bang and ends with a disappointing whimper while along the way featuring a performance by Olsen that far transcends the mediocrity of this mostly formulaic and easily predictable flick. Olsen plays Sarah, a recent high school grad spending the summer with her father (Adam Trese) at an abandoned country home that proves to be far much more than she'd ever bargained for. Directed by husband-and-wife team Laura Lau and Chris Kentis, who also directed the similarly subtle yet horrifying Open Water.
The selling point for Silent House, if there is one, is that it is said to have been filmed in a single, continuous long take. While such an approach is rare, it's largely a gimmick that has been used to positive effect in such films as Hitchcock's Rope and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Don't get me wrong. It's an impressive accomplishment given that many directors are more known for shooting and re-shooting scenes until just the right take comes along. It's a major gamble, especially for a film in wide release, to create a film using such an approach.
Such an approach really suits horror, however, because there's something about spontaneous horror that feels fresh and authentic. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Elizabeth Olsen and those big ole' beautiful eyes are in the film and front-and-center.
Silent House was modestly successful at Sundance in 2011, but it should prove interesting to see if it can attract an audience on its crowded opening weekend and with Andrew Stanton's first live-action pic, Disney's John Carter, opening alongside it. It's exciting to see that Olsen can be equally convincing in high-end drama and indie horror, a hopeful sign that the terrific promise she displayed earlier this year will lead to a long and diverse career.
While Olsen is terrific here, proving that there's more than one way to shriek convincingly, her supporting cast is tremendously hit-and-miss with both Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens being far outshone by the young actress.
As was true with their previous film Open Water, Lau and Kentis focus more on atmosphere and the psychological side of horror than on manifesting unnecessary gore and violence. This is a terrific choice with Olsen, whose facial expressions alone scream out horror as she runs from room to room in a house that has been boarded up and has no way to reach humanity due to its being under renovation. It's a frightening and claustrophobic setting made all the more unsettling thanks to Olsen's physicalization of absolute dread.
Silent House is a flawed film with a near flawless performance by Olsen that allows it to surpass mediocrity. Those who appreciate the weaving together psychological horror with a sort of "haunted house" type atmosphere will no doubt find much to appreciate with this film. Most of you will likely have figured it all out before the closing credits roll, but if you're willing to just go with it then you should find yourself at least modestly satisfied.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic