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DVD Review: Silent House

August 31, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


If you’re a hard-core horror fan who can’t resist the allure of anything with a damsel in distress wandering in the dark and screaming at every turn, then, by all means, rent or buy Silent House to quench your insatiable thirst. But if you’re looking to be thrown off by a well-conceived, mind-bending twist, proceed at your own peril: this one might turn out to be a nonsensical snore-fest. It’s really hard to find a good horror flick nowadays. The general tendency is to copycat splatter clichés, going meta for its own sake or focusing too much on form and forget about substance, like in this case.

Based on the 2010 Uruguayan film La Casa Muda that was apparently inspired by true events, Silent House retains the same conveniently creepy claim. College dropout Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is helping her father and uncle fix up their lake house in order to sell it. It’s an old vacation home, affected by mold and filled with family belongings that need sorting and packing. The place is in the middle of nowhere, windows are boarded up and doors are dead-bolted due to squatters targeting the house but what’s really convenient is the electricity being cut off. The characters can only rely on propane or LED lamps while upstairs there’s a faulty generator whose functionality is calculatedly intermittent.

After her uncle takes off to get more tools in town, sinister noises spread out around the house. Sarah’s father thinks she’s overreacting but a particularly loud jolt confirms something is not right. Sarah looks for him and he seems to have disappeared until he falls out of a closet, alive but with his head badly injured. Stained with her father’s blood and in complete freak out mode, Sarah can no longer deny someone’s in the house. Inevitably though, her attempts to get out are challenged by the place being practically on lock down and swallowed in pitch-black darkness. Any further information would certainly become a spoiler but beware: not a lot actually happens throughout the film’s 88 minutes.

Filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau deserve recognition for trying to approach the genre with a fresh style. In spite of some noticeable edit cheats, they set up the entire film as a single, uninterrupted take, following Sarah from beginning to end, hoping to fully engage the audience in her point of view. However, the interesting stylistic choice turns old too soon because it doesn’t serve a compelling story or at least a good execution of a potentially compelling twist. Just like they did in their directorial debut, Open Water, Kentis and Lau are overly preoccupied with the aesthetics, neglecting story and character development. Elizabeth Olsen is definitely the young actress to watch after her stunning debut in Martha Marcy May Marlene. She confirms her rising talent by carrying this picture entirely on her shoulders but it’s evident how this time she has to try hard and make up for the weaker material.

Francesco Cerniglia.