Do you prefer your Blu-Ray releases be devoid of extras? If so, that’s excellent news, because the current Blu-ray release of the horror remake Silent House has none! Well, save for director commentary from Chris Kentis and Laura Lau — which is really a standard feature at this point, available on most every Blu-Ray and DVD. Kentis and Lau are the movie-making husband and wife who brought you Open Water in 2003. While I never saw the full movie, I can still assure you that Open Water is a hell of a lot scarier than Silent House.
For starters, the former was actually based on a true story. Silent House considers itself inspired by true events, which Lau mentioned in the commentary, and at a Q&A session I was fortunate enough to attend while at a conference in Seattle earlier this year. The “true events” in question here happened 60 years ago in a village in Uruguay and involved murder. Silent House is set in present day rural America. Close enough, I guess? This is due to Silent House being a remake of the 2012 Uruguayan film The Silent House, which is one of those foreign movies that American film buffs complain shouldn’t be remade in the first place.
But it was remade, and I must deal with it accordingly. (Don’t worry, I won’t say much about the plot so as to not spoil anything for first-time viewers.) Immensely talented newcomer Elizabeth Olsen stars as Sarah, the horror-flick heroine trapped inside what once was her family’s lakeside summer home. They haven’t stayed there since she was young, though vandals have made themselves at home over the years and now all the windows are boarded up to prevent further break-ins. She’s there fixing up the place with her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) before putting it up for sale. Their cell phones conveniently get no service, the electricity in the house was shut off long ago, and it’s one of those places where you need a key just to get out. In other words: it’s the perfect setup for horrible things to happen, which they soon do, starting with Sarah finding her father mysteriously bloodied and on the ground.
Silent House’s gimmick is that it’s shot in real time, from the perspective of one character, giving the audience the perception that no cuts were made throughout filming. Kentis and Lau revealed that there were a handful of times they did cut (they’re keeping when or where a secret), but regardless, there are many elaborately choreographed sequences that go for 15 minutes or more. This gives us plenty of close-up time with the gorgeous Olsen, who adds necessary depth to her character and allows us to quickly notice that something is off about this girl. For a 20-something-year-old, she acts oddly innocent and naïve, hiding from her fears under tables and beds, as if that’s ever worked. Then when she does break out of the house midway through the movie, she finds herself going back in shortly after. They always do. In most horror flicks, I’d call a protagonist who does these things an idiot. But for Silent House, these things are either important character quirks or make sense in context.
Silent House builds to its ending, which Kentis says isn’t a “twist.” The director asserts that he and Lau had been building to the finale from the start of the film, and I agree with him — but that leads to both a compliment and problem. While it’s commendable that the filmmakers were able to construct a storyline that builds momentum in a linear, mostly coherent fashion (it’s amazing how hard it is for some filmmakers to go from point A to B), the payoff is potentially exposed early on. There are more than a few moments in Silent House that try to be subtle, but are exactly the opposite. So although the movie tries to hide its final destination, the mystery takes a hit along the way.
For a movie that contains its share of cookie-cutter haunted house tropes, I’ve got to give Kentis and Lau their due. They’re made a well-crafted attempt at giving us something more than a standard horror flick, though casual movie watchers may not see it as anything else. Moreover, Olsen’s performance here is just as strong as it was in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Igor Martinovic’s cinematography adds something special to the technical side. Those aspects are enough to make it worth the rental if not a purchase.