Theatrical Review: Silent House

A young woman named Sarah is working on an old summer house with her father and uncle with the purpose of selling the house.  As things progress, Sarah finds herself trapped in the house under unknown circumstances and now must survive the nightmare that she’s about to endure.

That’s the cryptic premise to Silent House the new horror film (actually more psychological thriller) from director’s Chris Kentis and Laura Lau who previously directed the thriller Open Water.  It’s an adaptation of a Uruguay film called La Casa Muda that I haven’t seen.  Like Open Water, Silent House uses a gimmick to tell it’s story.  The gimmick here is telling the entire series of events with the illusion of one seamless 80+ minute take.  It’s certainly an ambitious move, though it also gets in the way of making this truly effective.

Now, the reason for that, at least from my point of view, comes from the twist revealed at the end of why all of this is happening to Sarah.  This twist doesn’t come out of the blue and there are certainly clues leading up to it, but I think you almost need more time with Sarah to become truly invested in her experience by it’s end.  With that said, I do think that this could be a more fulfilling film on a second viewing considering that you’d now know to look for certain things, but I don’t know if it would make it any more effective.

I’m trying not to spoil anything about this movie, but it’s somewhat hard to do so and still go on about my criticism about it.  While this isn’t a direct spoiler, I’m going to make a comparison here that could certainly act as one, so you’ve been warned and you might want to avoid the rest of this paragraph. If there’s any movie that Silent House resembles most to me, it’s Alexandre Aja’s movie from 2003, High Tension.  If you’ve seen High Tension, then you’re already familiar with it’s twist and the twist there isn’t that far off from the same twist in Silent House.  The threat of this film is from Sarah’s own internalized past history.  The difference though is that High Tension takes a little more time to get you invested in it’s main character and thus makes it extremely effective when the twist is revealed.  Because of the nature of this film (being presented as one long take), you just don’t have the same opportunity to do the same with Sarah.  I give Kentis and Lau a lot of credit though, they try to do what they can within their box, so to speak, but it’s not quite enough.  I’d almost rather that they’d made this more of an external tangible threat and did away with the psychological elements entirely, but doing so would’ve changed this film entirely and would’ve made this a much different piece.

Now with that said, I do think they pull off their illusion pretty effectively even though there are certainly moments that can be picked out where there would be breaks in the filming.  The film’s sound design is extremely well done and for a film like this, it should be.  Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley) plays Sarah and she’s terrific considering what she has to work with, but what she has to work with is more of a character sketch more than anything else.

I don’t think Silent House is a horrible movie by any means, but it’s just not as effective and horrifying as it could be and most of that is due to the nature of it’s gimmick.  I love a good gimmick movie, but this movie’s gimmick stands in the way of really getting behind it’s main character considering where they take their main character.  There’s certainly stuff here to chew on that I think would certainly be worth a second viewing down the road, but until I do that myself, I can’t say for a certainty that it would make it any more effective.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

18. March 2012 by Darren Goodhart
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