Open Road and Liddell Entertainment wisely waited for Fox Searchlight to spend their marketing and PR energy to promote Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene before scheduling the opening of their own Sundance Olsen-starrer, Silent House, for March 9. Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) shot the horror thriller–which places a young woman locked inside her family’s isolated lake house with no contact to the outside world– in one seamless 79-minute shot. (How they did that is another story.)
One-shot movies, from Hitchcock’s stitched-together Rope to steadicam digital tour-de-force The Russian Ark, are tough to pull off. Sundance reviews weren’t stellar. A sampling and the trailer are below.
Though it’s based on the like-titled Uruguayan film “La Casa Muda,” “Silent House” seems oddly named for a thriller whose titular abode boasts the creaky floorboards of an old, dark genre. Taking place in real time via one apparently unbroken shot, this technically impressive, ultimately sleazy indie puts its heavy-breathing and buxom young heroine (Elizabeth Olsen) through the ringer for 87 minutes and leaves a sour aftertaste even by the brutalizing standards of modern horror. Another stylistic exercise from “Open Water” directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, “Silent House” twists camera and narrative alike, but repulses more than it scares.
‘Silent House’ is based on ‘La Casa Muda,’ a Uruguayan film that uses the same one-shot technique and the old “based on a true story!” canard. It’s unclear whether or not ‘Silent House’ purports to be based on a true story (or just based on something based on a true story?) or why Lau and Kentis chose or were approached to remake it. The characters and dialogue are so wooden that once we get over the fascination of the camerawork and spooky bits and the true ghosts in the story are revealed, this ‘House’ falls apart like a pack of cards.
The film is built on a foundation of secrets, of course, and one of the things the film does well is escalation. Building the right series of scares in the right sequence and milking each one to its maximum potential is the goal, and the film does it well on a mechanical level. Not perfectly, but well. For the film to really pay off, we have to believe the choices that Sarah makes, and that’s the biggest problem in the film for me. Some audience members will be frustrated by her near-determination to stay in the house long past the moment she should leave and never look back, and they should be. It’s one of the most fundamental problems in horror films… how do you maintain the isolation or the seclusion or the claustrophobia without also denying the simple logic of what a real person would do.
An Elle Driver presentation, Silent House is produced by Agnes Mentre of Tazora Films; exec producers are Adeline Fontan Tessaur, Eva Diederix, George Paaswel and Lynette Howell of Silverwood Films. Co–producer is Meir Gal. The screenplay was adapted by Lau from the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda, written by Oscar Estevez.