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Silent House (2012)

by Steve Habrat

The new horror film Silent House has been marketed as a single shot film that never cuts and that is told in real time. The marketing team could have also sold the movie as the horror film that is constantly allowing viewers a glimpse down star Elizabeth Olsen’s shirt. It seriously got to a point where it had to be intentional the way her cleavage was ALWAYS hanging out. Oh well, no amount of cleavage was going to save Silent House, which is rotten from the start, slightly redeems itself in the middle, and then violently crashes and burns due to a last act twist that is downright insulting. The truth is, Silent House is just one big experiment, one for directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau to brag how they made a film that is a single shot with no cuts. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are several masked cuts in the film (and they really are quite obvious), but there are a handful of drawn out sequences where the actors are demanded to actually act. It’s a shame really, because no one really possesses any true talent in Silent House. However, I can’t be too hard on Olsen, who does the best with what she is given, but the directors are more concerned with pulling off a gimmick rather than capturing truly fine acting.

Silent House follows Sarah (Played by Olsen), a young woman who is staying at a lakeside home with her father John (Played by Adam Trese). Sarah and John are attempting to renovate the home along with her suspicious Uncle Peter (Played by Eric Sheffer Stevens) so they can eventually sell it. Sarah starts hearing strange noises coming from the upstairs and begs her father to go up and investigate. While investigating, Sarah hears her father get attacked and then finds him unconscious with a nasty gash on his head. Sarah begins trying to figure out a way out of the house and getting help for her injured father, all while avoiding a strange presence in the home that has set its sights on Sarah.

The premise for Silent House is rather simple, but the big twist at the end wrestles with some difficult and disturbing subject matter that seems oddly out of place for a film like this. The problem is that the filmmakers have mishandled their subject matter, assuming we will be shaken to our core over what the film is tackling. They completely forgot to add terror to the film itself. Silent House quickly resorts to loud bangs, music blasts, and shadowy figures lurking in the distant background, techniques that evoke more yawns than jumps. The subject also takes a back seat to the experiment the filmmakers are trying so desperately to pull off. This is what makes Silent House such a disappointment, because when the filmmakers pull the rug out from under us, we are more flabbergasted by how preposterous the twist is over the horrifying nature of what has been going on. It truly is so implausible, I can’t believe the filmmakers would ask us to suspend that level of disbelief.

Once you have recovered from the half-assed twist, you’ll find yourself slowly aghast by the acting within the film. Elizabeth Olsen does the best job she can with what she is given here, so I can’t really criticize her too much. The acting work from Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens is another story entirely. There is nothing instinctive in their performances, both of which are so forced and unbelievable they come off almost robotic. The argument could be made that the actors are all trying to work choreography into their performances and a lot of choreography at that. Every move needs to be perfectly timed with a project like this, something that would weigh heavy on their minds. Sadly, the performances, along with the subject matter, get lost in the gimmick. There is also a brief (Thank God!) appearance by Julia Taylor Ross as Sophia, Sarah’s childhood pal who she barely recognizes at first when she unexpectedly drops by the house. Ross suffers from the same mangling of choreography and performance, seeming just as scripted as Trese and Stevens.

So what of Olsen? Well, Olsen isn’t as stilted as her costars, moving along much more benignly than everyone else. All that Kentis and Lau ask of her is to skulk around the dimly lit set and look horrified, uneasy, cry, and then scream out when she hears a footstep. It’s a relief that she is good at it! In a way, I’d like to see more out of Olsen, a young actress who I think is capable of more than starring in delusional teen horror films. Her true talent shows in the last act when she confronts the twist, a point where she gets to open up and show a bit of range and personality. I truly cannot image what kind of an experience Silent House would be if she didn’t come through with her part, even if that part is a cliché in a scarf.

Silent House shows moments where things could have gotten on track and started moving smoothly. There is a fifteen-minute stretch in the middle, culminating in Sarah using a Polaroid camera as a source of light to move through the darkened home, where things move up from humdrum to mildly exciting. The rest of this watered down experiment is the same old things-go-bump-in-the-dark exercise that is far from innovative. Yet the film never creates an effective atmosphere and it is completely inept in how to build tension and then serving up a satisfying pay-off. Instead, we get a second-rate shadowy antagonist, painfully tacky symbolism, and inane hallucinatory spurts before the filmmakers attempt their “gotcha” moment. For all the hype the people behind Silent House built to suck audiences in, the aspect you will actually remember is how the camera was always awkwardly and creepily aimed down Olsen’s shirt.

Grade: D+