Thursday, March 15, 2012

Silent House (Film Review)

Silent House (Open Road, 2012; Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau)

Silent House is an American remake of the 2010 Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda, but plays like a combination of The Strangers and The Haunting [of Hill House].  Lead character Sarah has joined her father and uncle in the attempt to renovate the secluded and decrepit family lake house, but things soon begin to go bump in the night (or rather, the late afternoon).  Do the ominous noises that Sarah hears signal the presence of home invaders?  Is the house haunted by a disgruntled ghost, or is all this apparent strangeness the product of Sarah's unreliable viewpoint?  Such questions keep the audience guessing throughout most of the film's runtime.

If you've seen the movie poster or trailer, then you know Silent House purports to have been filmed as a single, 88-minute-long take.  While the technique does create some interesting angles of perspective, it ultimately comes off as gimmicky.  And in some scenes, the camera grows so nauseatingly shaky, it makes The Blair Witch Project seem like soothing viewing in comparison.

The best part of the directors' decision to present their story this way is that it keeps the focus on Sarah, played by the naturally beautiful and abundantly talented Elizabeth Olsen.  Olsen excels here in the use of physical gesture, expressing sheer terror through various acts of clenching, sobbing, and silent, jaw-stretching yowling.  Her effort represents genuine acting, not the aping of hackneyed Scream Queen maneuvers.

Unfortunately, not even Olsen can save this vehicle from derailing in its last act.  An intriguing premise yields to a disappointing payoff, as the explanation for the events that have just taken place in and around the house is neither very original nor terribly moving.  In retrospect, the film might have had a stronger impact if it structured itself to end on a note of persistent ambiguity (a la The Haunting).

Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about Silent House is that the film's title doubled as an apt description of the theater in which I viewed the movie.  Granted, the screening was attended by a sparse, older crowd, but nowhere were there cries of fright, giggles of nervousness, or even groans of dismay over the film's conclusion, to be heard.  Such audience apathy speaks volumes; as a horror film, Silent House falls flat in its failure to elicit a visceral or intellectual reaction.  So I'm afraid that this one, Twisted Citizens, is a wait-for-DVD at best.

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