Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, and Eric Sheffer Stevens
MPAA: R - For Disturbing Violent Content and Terror]
I don't know what it is about one-shot takes that give movie-nerds such as myself a raging hard-on. To do something totally elaborate and cool-looking in a single take is, and let's not kid ourselves here, the director's way of totally showing off how technically skilled and awesome he/she is. But god damnit, I'm willing to let the director show off like that because it's really, really cool. That being said, there are still ways to make a one-shot take that makes sense on a thematic level, or just use it as a storytelling device. But, what if someone claimed that they can make an entire movie in one, single take.
Silent House is a simple, chilly tale of horror. A young woman (The always loveable Elizabeth Olsen) moves back into her childhood home with her father (Adam Trese) and Uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens), who are both helping her renovate it after it's taken a cruel beating from being abandoned and abused for so long. It isn't long until things start going bump in the darkness, someone assaults her father and leaves him unconscious, and poor Olsen is trapped in the house with mysterious men out to kill her. Now she has to find a way out before--WAIT A MINUTE! It's been 20 minutes into the movie and the camera hasn't cut!
That's right, Silent House claims to have been shot entirely in one, long, continuous take. This isn't something really new. The film itself is a remake of a film from Uruguay that used this same technique called La Casa Muda a.k.a. The Silent House. Plus there was a movie called PVC-1 about a woman with a bomb strapped to her neck from Columbia that used the technique as well. But it's still an enticing (and difficult to pull-off) gimmick that could be used to enhance the atmosphere. Hell, one of the reasons why many people consider horror games to be scarier than horror films is how they immerse the player into its atmosphere by keeping you attached to everything the character is doing in real time. So to make a straight-up horror film that is "real terror in real time" makes sense.
But does Silent House employ its gimmick effectively? Short answer: No. Long answer: No, and shut up.
Longer answer: Silent House isn't bad by any means, but it contains many bad elements. The movie, as a whole, is kind of a mixed bag. Even without the gimmick of the continuous take, the atmosphere is really strong thanks to a very clever setting. The house that the characters are renovating is entirely pitch black inside, even in the day time, because of the wood-boards replacing the windows and a power outage.
The thing that's disappointing however, is that despite having a clever gimmick and a very strong atmosphere, the film doesn't manage to be all that scary most of the time. A little creepy, yes, but not enough to make you tense and on the edge of your seat every second of the way through. All the pieces for a great, short and sweet horror film are here and the movie is a bit of a failure at just being scary.
As for the one-shot take, yes it's cool to behold, but I strongly doubt that the marketing is being truthful. Indeed, it feels like it was all shot in real time, but that doesn't mean it was all done in one long, continuous shot. There are many scenes where the whole place goes dark or the camera shakes until the image is an incomprehensible series of blurs, which could be utilized to cunningly sneak a cut in. Not to say that it matters, since it still feels like a real-time movie, but it's still something to take note of.
For about 90% of the film's short 88 minute run time, nothing about Silent House really grabbed me. There were some slightly effective moments, and I appreciated the slow-build of its tension, but they didn't culminate into something that truly affected me...
...That is until a scene in a billiards room. At that point, I was hooked. I won't spoil what happens, but it is at that point that I think the film finally takes full advantage of its atmosphere. It is also at this point that the film stops pretending to be a home-invasion thriller and reveals itself to be something else entirely. I was starting to get hooked, and I was ready to give myself over to the movie. And just like that, it all takes a nose-dive in the final 5-10 minutes.
Silent House ends with one of the most poorly executed twist endings I've seen in recent memory. Not only does it make very little sense, but even worse: It's predictable and obvious. The movie literally gave away everything about what the twist could potentially be with just one--and I repeat, ONE--conversation with a mysterious character in the beginning of the film that gives off some of the most painfully obvious foreshadowing I've ever seen in a film.
I haven't seen the original Spanish film, La Casa Muda, so I dunno whether to blame this on the original source material or a lazy Hollywood rewrite, but either way it sucks, sucks, sucks.
If there is one saving grace for the movie, it's Elizabeth Olsen. If you've read my recent reviews and top 10 lists from last year, you would know that Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of the original Olsen twins, debuted in a film called Martha Marcy May Marlene that I absolutely adored. You would also know that Elizabeth Olsen gave my favorite performance of 2011. Her ability to convey so much information with just her (lovely) facial expressions is the gift of a true star, and while Silent House is definitely a step back from Martha Marcy, it's still a good enough showcase of Olsen's talents. Considering it is all shot in one take, and we'll be looking at Olsen for 99% of the film, she really sells the fear and dread that this movie is lacking in, and she does all this with her great use of visual, facial acting, just like last time.
She almost saves the film, but unfortunately, it still isn't enough.
Final Verdict: It has a nice atmosphere, very good one-take camerawork, and it is yet another showcase for Elizabeth Olsen's star power. But Silent House, even with its central gimmick, is too generic, too predictable, and too hollow to provide a genuinely satisfying experience.
That is all. If you liked this review, you can follow me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 so you won't ever miss a single review from me and read some of my general ramblings on movies, games, and other such things.
See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stare at Elizabeth Olsen's face some more.