Review of Silent House

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Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) returns with her father and uncle to fix up the family's longtime summerhouse after it was violated by squatters in the off-season. As they work in the dark, Sarah begins to hear sounds from within the walls of the boarded-up building. Although she barely remembers the place, she senses the past may still haunt the home.
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--Movie Review: "Silent House"
Rating: R
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2012
Directed by: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriler

"Silent House" tries to be a unique exercise in terror, but it ultimately falls apart under its own pretensions. A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan horror film "La casa muda," it is directed by Chris Kenti and Laura Lau, who had previously directed the tension-filled "Open Water." With that kind of pedigree, audiences could be forgiven if they walk into "Silent Hill" expecting something more than the average horror flick. While the directing duo attempts to spice things up with a unique editing technique, the film itself falls apart after a third act reveal that takes it into an unexpected direction. The best part of the film is Elizabeth Olsen, who continues to create an interesting and creative acting career.

The film follows Sarah (Olsen) as she, her father, John (Adam Trese), and her uncle Peter (Eric Scheffer Sevens) stay at their lake house. The house has fallen into decay, with boards on the windows and graffiti covering the property. Moving further into standard haunted-house territory, the vacation home happens to have zero electricity and a serious mold problem.

An argument breaks out between Peter and John, causing Peter to storm off the property in a fit of anger. With Sarah and John alone, things begin to go awry. First, there's a strange visit from a girl named Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) who claims that she and Sarah were childhood friends. Sarah, who has no memory of Sophia, approaches the situation with apprehension. Seconds after Sophia leaves, Sarah hears a noise upstairs. She goes to investigate, only to find her father working on the house. Another noise sends Sarah upstairs again, only this time she finds John bleeding and unconscious. Before she can escape, Sarah realizes all of the windows are boarded back up, leaving her trapped inside the house.

While "Silent House" takes what seems like a dozen horror clichés and stuffs them into the first few minutes of the film, it more than makes up for these tropes with the way the movie is edited. Designed to look as if it's a single take, the film takes great strides to present itself as a live account of events through the eyes of Sarah. The unedited technique is similar to Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," and it gives "Silent House" an eerie feeling that it may have otherwise lacked.

The film lives and dies on the character of Sarah, so the filmmakers should count their lucky stars they were able to find Olsen. Her acting completely carries the movie, which should come as no surprise for anyone who saw her in the film "Martha Marcy May Marlene." In "Silent House," she turns in a truly excellent psychological performance that sees her mood spring from fear to psychosis at the drop of a hat. Even after the strange third-act twist, it's Olsen's acting that keeps the audience involved in the film. She belongs on the list of great horror actresses with Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis.

All great acting and editing aside, the film has a hard time standing on its own shaky foundation. Outside of Sarah, none of the characters are well defined. While that may be on purpose, it leaves the audiences shrugging their shoulders when the third act twist comes. While a twist in a film can be a great thing, for "Silent House" it turns a mediocre fright fest into a film about depravity, perversion and psychosis. It is a jarring transition that could have worked in the hands of better filmmakers, but here, it makes it feel like the viewer is watching two different films. Olsen keeps things interesting, but once the twist comes, it is hard to stay engaged with the finale of the movie.

Ultimately, audiences will be better off viewing the original film over this remake. The third act left such a bad taste that it almost nullified Olsen's fantastic performance. For those interested in seeing a thriller that feels like an unedited piece and maintains its sense foreboding, take a look at Hitchcock's "Rope." Others may be better off watching "Open Water" for a good sense of what Kentis and Lau can do when they're firing on all cylinders. But, with "Silent House," the directors seem to have bitten off more than they can chew. Horror fans can only hope that they are able to bounce back with their next feature film.