It’s a tale as old as time, at least in terms of the modern horror film: A lone woman trapped in an eerie house, being pursued by intruders, ghouls, or some other unknown horror with malicious intentions in mind.
Indeed, throughout the history of horror cinema, the ‘haunted house’ sub-genre hasn’t seen much in terms of revisions or re-imaginings.
If you look back in the canon of great ‘haunted house’ films throughout the decades—“The Haunting,” “Poltergeist,” “The Shining,” and “House of the Devil,” to name a few—plot and narrative development follows a fairly similar formula: Protagonist finds themselves in an eerie house; protagonist begins hearing/seeing eerie things; protagonist is pursued by unknown evil; and predictably, the protagonist falls victim to the trappings of the house. It’s a fairly standard formula, but it works, at least to a certain degree.
“Silent House,” the latest ‘haunted house’ horror venture, doesn’t strive too far from the standard—narratively speaking—but instead, relies on one simple gimmick in order to distinguish itself: the entire film is presented as one long take, never relieving the audience from its narrative tensions, even in the most frantic of scenes.
But where this gimmick mostly works, the film’s ludicrous and hackneyed plot developments inevitably kill what could have be a worthy addition to the canon of successful ‘haunted house’ films.
A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film “The Silent House“, the American remake directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (“Open Water“) finds Elizabeth Olsen as the ill-fated heroin trapped in an eerie house, pursued by unknown assailants.
Olsen, who plays Sarah, is with her dad John (Adam Trese) at their families’ old lakeside vacation home. After years of not visiting, the pair, along with Sarah’s Uncle Pete (Eric Sheffer Stevens) attempt to fix the place up in order to put on the market.
Years of neglect have left the house in poor condition as squatters have broken nearly all the windows and left the house in general disarray.
As predicted, things aren’t nearly as quiet as they appear when Sarah begins hearing strange noises in the house. Soon, her father is attacked and knocked out by an unknown assailant, and Sarah finds herself in a cat-and-mouse situation in the big house. As such, with the all-in-one-take editing gimmick, the events that happen in the film are presented in real time and we’re forced to watch every painstakingly intense moment as Sarah frantically attempts to escape from the house.
Let’s be clear: “Silent House” is a one-trick pony.
From the trailers and the marketing campaign, it’s more than clear that the studio is selling the hell out of the “all-in-one-take” stylistic approach. And while that tactic certainly is admirable—and even effective, as I found myself at the edge of my seat, battling with myself not shield my eyes from the horrors presented onscreen—it’s not enough to sustain the film, or even save it from a terribly mediocre, borderline exploitative story.
In keeping it ‘spoiler-free’, I’ll say that yes, there is a twist ending, and yes, it does nearly ruin what could have been a fairly decent horror film.
At it’s best, “Silent House” succeeds as a minimal, yet highly taut and suspenseful horror film much in the vain as the brilliantly executed “The Strangers,” but unfortunately it falls victim to the most common of horror film deterrents: narrative cliches and laziness.
Overall Grade: C
Silent House is now playing in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.