REVIEW: ‘Silent House’
REVIEW: ‘Silent House’
Some days I wonder if the saying “everything has been done before” rings true, especially when it comes to Hollywood. In the age of remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels, anything that breaks new ground is a welcome sight. “Silent House” fits that bill, described as eighty eight minutes of real fear captured in real time and purported to be shot in one continuous take. While technically a remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film “La Casa Muda” (Spanish translation: The Silent House), the concept is still fairly new to Hollywood (2000′s “Time Code” is Hollywood’s only one-take film that comes to mind). While the plot didn’t necessarily draw me in – girl gets trapped in family lake house and must fight to survive – the concept of one single long take capturing an entire narrative certainly caught my attention. I visited the theatre to find out if this unique style would play out as kitschy or groundbreaking.
With the family lake house on the market, Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) joins her father and Uncle to help with repairs. A family fight sends her Uncle off storming off into town, leaving Sarah and her father alone in the house. When investigating a strange noise upstairs, Sarah’s father is attacked and Sarah discovers she is trapped inside the locked and boarded up home. A game of cat and mouse between Sarah and the unknown intruder unfolds, and while attempting to escape Sarah must face events from her past that are more horrific than what is currently happening in the house.
The one-take cinematography is hit or miss throughout the film. The opening moments take us from a stylistic aerial shot of the rock-lined shore to a jerky jaunt up a path to the lake house, leaving one member in the audience behind me asking out loud if she was going to suffer from motion sickness ala “The Blair Witch Project.” At times the voyeuristic style lends to the narrative quite nicely, especially in those extreme close up moments of anticipation. Other times it just comes off as messy, with cinematographer Igor Martinovic bouncing along side Sarah as she runs from room to room. Overall I think the one-take style worked for this particular film given the narrative and location, as I don’t think the more conventional editing route would have added anything to the film.
While the cinematography concept may be novel, everything else about the film is cliché. The film is filled with what I call “eye rollers,” those moments of inexplicable stupidity by the protagonist. How one manages to get locked inside an old house is beyond me, but Sarah manages to do it…wait for it…twice. The plot twist at the end gives a bit of justification for the severe lapses in judgement, but filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau could help the audience connect with the protagonist with a few less idiotic moments.
The film uses a method of anticipation similar to the 2008 film “The Strangers.” The old lake house is a maze of doors and hallways, each one promising the possibility of a new terror to jump out at us. This is where the one-take style works best, as the cinematography throws you right in there with Sarah as her terror takes place. While “The Strangers” is a masterpiece in sound design and anticipation, “Silent House” plays out more like a less-talented cousin. There are a few moments of audio artistry – including an eerie basement scene – but not enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.
The film has a big plot twist towards the end of act two that takes it in a completely different and disturbing direction. The plot pinches come fast and furious as we move from a simple “escape from intruder” storyline to something much darker. It would have been nice to stretch this out a bit, as you question if there’s something psychological or perhaps supernatural behind everything as the twist unfolds. This was the most enjoyable part of the film – trying to figure out just what is actually happening. Unfortunately they rush to the film’s denouement and just as you’re putting the pieces together, the film cuts to black and credits roll. The real beauty in this film isn’t the plot or acting, but the choreography used with the 88-minute take. Actors weave in and out seamlessly in a complex location, with a few effects skillfully blended in. I’m not sure how enjoyable the played out plot or cliché plot twist will be for the audience, but if anything film enthusiasts should appreciate the novelty act of the unique one-take narrative.
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