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Marshall Fine

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Movie review: Silent House

Posted: 03/ 9/2012 9:59 am

Silent House is one of those gimmick-movies that you can easily imagine beginning with a conversation along the lines of, "Hey, you know what would be cool?"

In this case, the answer to that question is, "It would be cool to make a horror movie in one continuous unedited shot that lasts the length of the whole movie so the whole thing unfolds in real time."

That was the approach with the Uruguayan original of this film by Gustavo Hernandez - and filmmakers Laura Lau and Chris Kentis, the filmmakers behind Open Water, follow the same template in their new American remake. (In fact, you can see the seams where they did, in fact, cut, putting together long, long takes but not one unbroken one.)

Like the original, the Lau-Kentis film focuses on a trio of people who converge on a remote lake house: a man, John (Adam Trese); his daughter, Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen); and the man's brother, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens). The man and his brother have been working on remodeling the house in preparation for moving out; the daughter has joined them for the final night before they take off in the morning.

Peter and John fight about John's expectations of the work Peter should have finished, so Peter leaves. John heads off to work elsewhere in the house - leaving Sarah to wander around outside. She runs into a young woman she knew when they were both children, though Sarah doesn't really remember her. When Sarah goes back into the house, she can't find John - and she hears weird noises from upstairs. She locates her father and they take their flashlights to explore the upstairs.

Oh - did I mention that the electricity is out in the house and it's all boarded up against vandals?

Father and daughter get separated upstairs and John disappears. As Sarah searches for him, she becomes convinced that there is someone else in the house, someone evil - and, at one point, hides under a table as an ominous pair of legs steps into the room, looking for her. (Apparently, the legs are attached to someone who somehow can't see her quivering under the table.) Then she sneaks back upstairs where she finds her father trussed and bloody. How can she rescue him and escape from the would-be killer?

The first hour amounts to an alternately whimpering and shrieky Olsen and a shaky handheld camera, wandering around the house by flashlight and electric lantern, listening for noises, hiding from them when she hears them. There are several sudden jolts that send Olsen squealing off into the dark, the camera skittering behind her.

Olsen is a convincing actress but she is trapped in a venture that falls victim to the law of diminishing returns. After the first 45 minutes, the whole things starts to grate because the filmmakers obviously have no idea where to go with this. You'll probably greet the solution they reach with a shrug, instead of a "Wow!"

I'll admit that, midway through the film, I realized my teeth were clenched. Then I unclenched them and simply rode it out, because Silent House is like an amusement park ride that, having hits its peak early on, keeps going a lot longer than it needs to.


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