With many of the scares lacking potency, the middle act of the film becomes baggy and dull.
An English-language remake of 2011’s Uruguayan high-concept horror La Casa Muda, Silent House takes the same central gimmick – the film is purportedly shot in one continuous take, in real time – and adds very little, disappointingly barely even attempting to address the flaws of the original film.
The story is a simple one, Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father (Adam Trese) head to their deserted coastal property to renovate and repair, joined by Sarah’s uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens). After things go bump in the night, Sarah is thrust into a visceral game of cat and mouse with an unseen enemy.
Taking on some of the most reliable of horror tropes – the sense of isolation in the oppressive darkness, which births a mounting desperation on the part of the heroine – the film plays it safe for the most part, testing the audience’s nerves early on with a few decently-executed jumps. Unfortunately, writer/directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau break a golden rule, showing their hand far too soon, and far too often, for the scares to be consistently effective. The haunted house sub-genre is a saturated one these days, and films cannot be as predictable as this and hope to remain frightening, particularly when the bar is set so highly by superior work such as the first half of last year’s Insidious.
With many of the scares lacking potency, the middle act of the film becomes baggy and dull. We are taken on a long journey through the house, with a series of low-impact jumps never quite landing due to the familiar pacing and rhythm here. It is impossible to avoid comparisons with the original film in this case, with the Uruguayan effort’s biggest strength becoming this version’s biggest weakness – the presence of the camera. In the original film, the camera was not presented as a home recording or “found footage”, creating an intelligently complicit style of camerawork which managed to maximise the impact of the scares.Here the camera adopts a similar role, but is not handled with the same flair or invention as in Gustavo Hernández‘s film, being more interested in close-ups of Olsen crying than in enhancing the ghost-train ideas of the story.
Olsen is in fine form in what is a very challenging role, given little to play off and delivering an intense performance in only a few takes (the claim of a single take is unlikely to be true – there are more than a few convenient blackouts here) but the Martha Marcy May Marlene star is far better than the film she appears in, being by far the best aspect of the entire production.
As the film builds to its dunderheaded conclusion, throwing up a slightly different ending to the original but doing nothing to repair the flaws of the earlier film, the disappointment sets in that a better fist couldn’t have been made of a good concept.
Silent House is likely to induce nightmares, due not to any real scares, but rather a tendency to send the viewer to sleep despite a well-done first 20 minutes or so. A real shame, but this is evidence that an interesting concept does not an enjoyable film make. Olsen deserves better than this, and the whole thing just comes off as an unfortunate failed experiement.