Silent House (2012)

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If you walk into Silent House, stay for 60 minutes and then leave, you will have seen one of scariest hours of horror so far this year. The big marketing hook for this movie is that it’s presented as one long continuous take – and it marks Elizabeth Olsen’s (little sister of the Olsen twins) mainstream movie debut.  I’m not sure why either of those things are a big deal, but I will give Olsen props for being the best actor in the movie.

Olsen plays Sarah, a young woman staying at a remote family lake house with her father and uncle. The house has been abandoned for years and local squatters have broken the windows and made a general mess of things. Sarah’s father John (played by Adam Trese) is trying to fix the place up to sell, and he’s recruited his handy-man brother Peter (played by Eric Sheffer Stevens) to help.

Elizabeth Olsen in Silent House

Uncle Peter has boarded up all the windows and rats have chewed through the wiring, so the inside of the house is as dark as a cave.  The only source of illumination is some electric lanterns and a couple of oil lamps. The movie is mostly shot using available light, which means the surroundings are revealed slowly, at the end of a flashlight beam. The house is a labyrinth of narrow hallways and what seems like thirty rooms and fifty doors, some of which are padlocked. Those elements combine to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that is compounded by a minimal score.

Sarah’s father and uncle set up shop and start inspecting the damage, while Sarah is tasked with cleaning out the room she shared with her cousins when she was a little girl. But before she can get started she’s interrupted by a visitor at the front door – a girl claiming to be a childhood friend. After chatting for a few minutes it’s clear that Sarah has no memory of the girl, and that’s where the uneasiness starts.  Shortly after the girl leaves, John and Peter have a spat and Peter drives into town to cool off. John wanders off into the dark recesses of the house, leaving Sarah alone in her old room with nothing but the silence to keep her company.

And the silence is what really makes this movie. It’s like an extra character in the story, so it’s appropriate it should appear in the title. There is almost no score, just an occasional handful of dark notes to ramp up the tension. Sarah realizes that she may not be as alone as she thinks, and when the shit starts to hit the fan, every creak of the floorboards, every breath, every heartbeat makes you squirm in your seat.  [spoiler ahead]

Silent House sets itself up as a home invasion story  – unfortunately it doesn’t end that way. If it had, it might have been one of the scariest movies I’ve seen lately. There were some clues early on that there was more happening than some psychopathic hobos, but I wisely chose to ignore them. Once the twist ending begins to reveal itself the tension drifts away like letting air out of a balloon. I can’t say more without revealing too much but suffice it to say that the last 20 minutes are a letdown, considering the intense build-up that leads you there.

I should point out that Silent House is actually a remake of a low-budget Spanish-language film from Uruguay which premiered at Cannes in 2010. That version is supposed to be based on actual events from the 1940s, which has got my curiosity piqued.  If I can find a copy, I’ll be posting a follow-up review, so stay tuned.

Rating: 2.75/5 ★★¾☆☆ 

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About Dave_P

Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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