It’s tough to be original in the horror business, especially when filmmakers decide to do a remake of an existing film, as in the case of Silent House. Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who previously collaborated on Open Water, chose the 2010 film La Casa Muda for their next feature. Writer/director Gustavo Hernandez’s original film was based on a true story of a young woman trapped in a lakeside cottage with a killer. The selling point of the 2012 remake was meant to be a seemingly continuous shot that ran for the feature’s entire 86 minutes, but perhaps they should have focused on making a cohesive story and establishing a sense of escalation instead, as the “found footage” gimmick quickly grows stale and the script leaves our protagonist, quite literally, with nowhere to go. Hit the jump for my review of Silent House on Blu-ray.
Let me kick this review off by saying that I’m a fan of horror films, especially those of the “haunted house” variety. It’s tough to be an original storyteller with this backdrop; Silent House tries, but fails to really hit home with the plot twist. I was also looking forward to seeing Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) after hearing so much about her, but I won’t judge her work based on this film which left her little room to take her character. You can read Matt Goldberg’s theatrical review here, which is in lock step with my own opinion. Let’s dive in.
The film follows Sarah (Olsen) as she is helping her father John (Adam Trese) and her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) to repair a lakeside cottage. There’s an issue with the house’s electricity which forces the trio to resort to flashlights and lanterns to continue their work. (Horror-Movie Survival Point #1: If the power goes out, get the eff out of there and hire an electrician to sort it out whilst you retire to a local pub for some beers.) After a spat between John and Peter, the latter storms out and leaves Sarah and John in the house alone. All well and good, until Sarah begins to hear mysterious noises in the house. The plot thickens as John disappears while investigating the source of the noise (Horror-Movie Survival Point #2: Never split up. C’mon!). As she tries to find him, she quickly finds that she is not alone and to make matters worse, all the doors are locked and she is trapped inside with some rather unpleasant strangers.
Unfortunately, the peril never really escalates from here. The tension in the film barely lasts up until the end of the first act. After that point, it’s a lot of running frantically from room to room in the dark, creepy shots half-shown in the dim lantern light accompanied by overly dramatic screaming from Olsen. It becomes tedious to the point that you begin to wish for a reprieve…and not in that tense, edge-of-your-seat kind of way, but from sheer boredom.
I will say that the third act does feature some interesting moments. There are some WTF scenes that are reminiscent of The Shining but that don’t come close to matching Kubrick’s film’s psychological torment. These all build up to the eventual plot twist that some may see coming a while away. Unfortunately, even this supposed shocker of an ending falls flat because there was almost no time developing a backstory for these characters, so why should we ultimately care what happens to them? There was potential here, that’s for sure, but the story simply becomes a chore.
The cinematography becomes the sole interesting feature of Silent House. The Blu-ray’s one special feature (a commentary track from Kentis and Lau) talks about the difficulty in keeping consistency in the shots to make it look like one extended take. The drastic contrasts in lighting throughout the movie (moving from a bright exterior to a dim interior lit only by candles and lanterns, etc) proved a real challenge, but the pair were up to the task on that one, at least. The film started out promisingly enough with an overhead shot of Sarah walking along the lake front’s rocky shore. From here on out, the casual viewer will not see a cut. In actuality, there are about ten edits but they’re blended seamlessly within the film. The risky camera work was ported over from the original Uruguayan film, but ultimately fell flat because of the lack of escalation written into the script. While we’re stuck with our protag the entire time in what should be a bonding experience with her character, it becomes more of an annoyance than anything else. There are some clever uses of lighting throughout, such as a Polaroid camera that illuminates the scene in bursts of a flashbulb with long, tense segments of darkness between, but it all feels like we’ve seen it before. Unfortunately, that about sums up the experience of watching Silent House.