March 19, 2012

Movie Review: Silent House

Silent House is one of those movies that sort of snuck up on me. I had no idea it was even coming out until I saw a trailer pop up on theaters not long ago. The whole real time aspect grabbed me as did its star, Elizabeth Olson. I first saw her last year in the fantastic Martha Marcy May Marlene, she gave a very strong performance there and while this may not be quite as strong, it is just as effective in other ways. This is a thriller, a horror, and a drama all rolled into one tight little package.

The film is a remake of the 2010 film La casa muda from Uruguay. Prior to seeing Silent House I was unaware of this fact and now I must track that one down. The original film tells, from what I understand, the same story but is a little different stylistically. I have been told that the Uruguayan film is all told in the first person, through her eyes. I am quite interested in seeing that get pulled off.

Still, the American version is no slouch in the style department. You see, it is told in one continuous take, or that is what they would like you to believe. This is another act I did not beforehand. You'd think I would have done some research beforehand, right? Nope. I saw the trailer and was immediately interested. The film certainly looks like one take, there are no cuts within scenes, we follow Olson's character for the duration. In actuality there are something like ten cuts hidden in the editing, if you pay attention you will see where they could be.

The story itself is a simple one. A father and daughter, Sarah (Olson), are working with he uncle to renovate a house. We follow her around the house, whose windows are all boarded up. Before long you start to hear some noises, the feeling that someone else is in the house creeps up the back of your neck. We follow along with Sarah as she gets more and more wound up and more and more scared. She has no idea who might be in the house and finding her father unconscious does not help matters much.

We are placed right alongside Sarah as she moves through the house in an increasingly frantic state. Her fear and anxiety builds and builds until it is almost to much to bear, then something changes. I don't really want to say there is a twist, but there is something more to the story than what appears to be a potential home invasion. I dare not give it away, but the hints laid throughout the film are rather blatant but not distractingly so.

Silent House is a movie that worked for me on a few levels. The story itself is simplistic, does not offer all the answers or enough reasoning, but it does offer interesting ideas and clues to play around with to fit in. It is a movie that does not require a lot of plot as it is one that relies on style and performance to carry the bulk of the weight. Fortunately, the style and performance is more than up to the task.

The faked "one-take" style is beautiful. I do not believe I have seen a narrative film do this since Hitchcock's Rope. Oh, wait, there is also Russian Ark, but that is a legitimate single take, there are no cuts in that film. Yes, there are cuts here, but they are skillfully hidden and while I could see where the could be, nothing was noticeable or distracting. I love how we are forced right along with Sarah, never being given an inside look and usually having things purposefully hidden from view. Besides the single take, there are other nice touches such as the often shallow focus and points where the camera becomes purposefully obscured (like going behind doors to view through the crack). It is a very nicely executed look that accentuates the atmosphere.

Performance is the other half of the puzzle. Some of the supporting work is a little bit off but the one that counts is a knockout. Elizabeth Olson is proving with just two big projects under her belt that she is going to be around for awhile. This film may not be as challenging as her damaged cult escape in MMMM, but she successfully takes us from fine to curious, to scared, to frantic scared for your life scared in a natural, realistic progression that I believed every moment. I was quite impressed with her portrayal of this growing fear, the tears, the sobs, the frantic running, the mute screams, everything. Very impressive.

The film was directed by the husband and wife team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, whose last film was 2003's Open Water. This is a big step up from their first film. I liked the shark film, but there is something about this one that I just loved. It is creepy, weird, stylish, and simple. It just works.

As I left the theater, I got the distinct impression that I was the only one who actually liked it. It is that sort of a movie, sure to inspire a love/hate sort of response. Neither side is right and I think I am going to be among the minority. Now to track down La casa muda...

Highly Recommended.


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