Killing Off the Editor?

Silent House (March 9, 2012)     3/5

Directed by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau (Open Road Films)

The husband/wife team of Kentis & Lau, who brought us the acclaimed, low-key shocker Open Water back into 2003, attempt something similar in their remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film, The Silent House. The result is a chilling film built around a gimmick of technical ambition, only unwinding when a story of relative simplicity fails to match a quite unique, photographic exercise.

Elizabeth Olson, fresh off her incredible performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, plays Sarah, a young woman who soon becomes trapped in her family lake house. Revealing anything else would be completely ridiculous, considering that even simple hints dropped by the filmmakers allow us to connect the dots all too easily. But I can say this – Silent House claims that it is a film shot continuously, meaning there are literally no cuts. According to IMDb, it was actually shot in segments of about 10 minutes each, and edited together to hide the transitions. However, one cannot deny that the technique is impressively effective.

A suspenseful tone is set immediately in the opening credits; silence enveloping titles that look like something out of a crappy, Japanese video game.  From there on out, the film poses an interesting question. Can we really know this woman by simply following her around? Can her facial expressions, movements, and reactions tell us all we need to know in order to make her a compelling protagonist? The simple answer is yes, meaning the film was successful in that regard. Equally incredible is the way Kentis & Lau frame Silent House, jolting us by not fully showing whomever (or whatever) may by attempting to snatch at Olson at any given time.

At the film’s best, these moments are terrifying. Yet in the 21st century’s all-so-popular “found footage” genre, the terror often comes from what we do not see. And at the same time, we are often in the same boat as the characters. Silent House provides a unique spin on these conventions by making us wonder whether Olson’s character does indeed know what is occurring in this house, and the haunting possibility of whether we are simply the onlookers of something we cannot yet understand. Thus said, the film could have better utilized this principle, especially in a third act that quickly swings us back into conventionality.

Yet the cinematography by Igor Martinovic never fails to impress, playing with focus and lighting to such an extent that every camera movement, every peek around the corner provides something new for our eyes to focus on and contemplate. He also likes to focus on Olson’s cleavage, A LOT. While I have no problem with this, it is much more relevant to have the camera pointed at the young actress’s face, which displays her terror to a superb extent. She carries the film, even despite Lau’s god-awful dialogue. I also didn’t appreciate the casting choices for Olson’s father and uncle (Adam Trese and Eric Scheffer, respectively), who do not give poor performances, but are obvious in the manner Kentis & Lau wish to portray them. It almost would’ve been more interesting if Olson were alone for the entire duration of the film, but naturally, we need other characters to drive the action.

This all leads to a climax that we can begin to piece together in the midsection. Somewhere along the way, a piece of information is dropped that basically fills in all the gaps, and as if to fool us, the film tops it off with a cliché twist. The resolution is both scary and disturbing, yet lacks the originality that would have made it absolutely shocking. But Silent House keeps you on edge throughout its entire running time, and for that, remains more impressive than a majority of modern horror films. It certainly feels like real-time, but in a claustrophobic, hallucinatory sense. And for a duration of only 88 minutes, that experience is easy to recommend.

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