In the new horror film Silent House, Elizabeth Olsen plays Sarah, an emotionally unstable young woman who goes to her family’s old lakefront vacation home with her father. After years of neglect, the cottage is on the verge of collapse and Sarah has been recruited to help her dad and her uncle prepare the house for collapse. It’s obvious from the first minute that Sarah appears on-screen that she’s emotionally unstable. Whether she’s staring out at the desolate lake or (in the first genuinely disturbing scene in a film that’s full of them) awkwardly dealing with her uncle’s blatant attempt to flirt with her, Sarah is a bundle of nerves. When, at one point, Sarah hears something wandering around the house, her father replies that he’ll check it out because “I know how you are.”
Unfortunately for Sarah, things are about to get a lot worst.
Shortly after Sarah is visited by a mysterious girl who claims to be a childhood friend (“I do remember you,” Sarah says at one point though she doesn’t sound too convinced herself), her father disappears and Sarah finds herself being chased through the house by a pursuer who only seems to exist in the shadows. As she struggles to escape the house, she continually sees a silent girl watching her, just to disappear whenever Sarah tries to approach her. Even when Sarah does manage to get out of the house, she quickly finds herself brought back against her will until finally, she discovers the dark secrets that are hidden within the house and she’s forced to confront an evil far more disturbing than she had originally suspected.
Silent House is a film with a gimmick — director Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have filmed and edited it to give the impression that the movie was shot in a single take and, therefore, all of the horror takes place in real time. Usually, I’m not a big fan of movies that rely on gimmicks but, in this case, it actually works pretty well at giving the impression of a truly relentless thrill ride. Fortunately, Kentis and Lau don’t just rely on the film’s gimmick to make the movie effective. From this film, it’s obvious that they understand that taking the time to create the right atmosphere is just an important to a succesful horror film as having proverbial monster suddenly jump out of the shadows.
It helps that Elizabeth Olsen (who really should have received an Oscar nomination for Martha Marcy May Marlene) is totally believable and sympathetic as Sarah. It takes a while to realize that Olsen is giving a great performance. For most of the film, I just thought she was doing a good job at playing scared. (For most actresses, being chased in a horror movie is a rite of passage.) It was only during the final 15 minutes that it become apparent that, more than just playing frightened, Olsen was instead laying down the foundation for the film’s finale. I’ve read some criticism claiming that the film’s final twist came out of nowhere but I actually found it to be effective and disturbingly plausible. That is almost totally due to commitment that Olsen shows in creating the character of Sarah.
I saw Silent House earlier today with Jeff and seriously, I was so happy he was there because I spent almost the entire movie with my face buried in his shoulder. Admittedly, I’m usually pretty jaded when it comes to gore and horror. (For example, I saw Dale get his guts ripped out on The Walking Dead last Sunday and I may have arched an eyebrow but otherwise, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before.) But seriously, Silent House is an intense film that, wisely, doesn’t allow logic to get in the way of being scary. The critics can nitpick all they want on this film. What matters is that Silent House works.
(As a sidenote, I really hope that after this movie and Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizaebeth Olsen takes break from running for her life and makes a nice, happy romantic comedy. She deserves a break!)