Silent House (2012)

Is it a gimmick? That’s the question I had to ask myself when I watched Silent House. Filmed like it was filmed in one shot (but – clearly – isn’t) Silent House prides itself on being “real fear in real time”, and although deeply affective on a scares-you-witless level, story wise it doesn’t branch new territory and leaves you asking yourself another pertinent question: “If this wasn’t shot in ‘one’ take, would this be considered a giant clichéd mess?”

But what’s it about? Silent House focuses on Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), who – alongside her Dad and Uncle – are renovating their old country / lakeside house. Unfortunately rats have chewed through the electrical cables and the windows are all boarded up due to bored teenagers lobbing rock through them (you know, for kicks), so it’s also very very dark inside their old home. Candles and portable lamps dark. Like the beginning of 28 Weeks Later dark.

After finding mold deep inside the walls of their old home, Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) buggers off to town leaving Sarah and doting Daddy John (Adam Trese) in the creaking, sprawling house-of-a-thousand-doors. But are they alone? Nope.

Soon Sarah finds herself locked inside the massive house, her dad missing, with an unseen enemy haunting, harassing and standing-in-the-background-looking-at-her a lot. But how can she escape the Silent House?

Okay, the set up isn’t vastly original, but then that’s what Silent House suffers incredibly from here. Remade from the Uruguayan original of the same name, Silent House was created from a lack of originality. For those who’ve seen only a few horror films, you’re going to have a blast. Horror aficionados will play “notice the cliché” and “hello plagiarism” throughout.

Luckily Silent House is scary either way. That’s the overwhelmingly positive thing I can say about it. It is an effective, scary horror film. Due to its one-shot approach, it plays out very similarly to a found footage film, except the actors can’t see the camera. Using this to its greatest effect, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (co-creators of 2003’s Open Water) ensure the angles are perfect to deliver the jump scares and build an immense amount of tension. A lot of the praise should be heaped on Nathan Larson for his original score and music, which is deep and resounding and always foreboding. Great work from Larson.

Due to the way it is filmed, some people may be irritated by the “shaky cam” filming technique that my dad hates so much. The opening five minutes might make some feel sea sick and it instantly gave me a headache (which thankfully passed) so this filming technique won’t be for everyone.

So what about this “one shot” selling point? Is it convincing? Unfortunately no. Not at all. Apparently filmed in 10 minute chunks (rather than one long one), these transitions are sometimes startlingly obvious, and the film suffers from major continuity errors that ruin any chance of even pretending it’s authentic. A pet peeve of mine is the magically-teleporting bloodstains on white clothing, and Silent House is plagued with it, as Elizabeth Olsen’s chest is splattered with infrequently moving bloodstains, that grow, reduce, get fresher and change shape throughout.

Talking of Elizabeth Olsen’s chest, there seem to be an unnecessary amount of Olsen cleavage on display in Silent House, with some lingering shots down her top that’ll make some audience members uncomfortable, especially considering the context and themes of Silent House. Perhaps deliberate, maybe accidental, but definitely a little too gratuitous for something with such a disturbing undertone.

Luckily Olsen isn’t out-acted by her cleavage and is excellent throughout, projecting a very believable amount of terror into her performance. A great actress, it’s just a shame her character’s actions weren’t more… likeable. She drops keys, falls over, runs upstairs, almost has a Blair Witch snot-attack and repeatedly hides under furniture (to the point the audience chuckled when she scrabbled under something for the third time).

Then there’s the ending. SPOILER ALERT! I thoroughly enjoyed the switch from killer-in-the-house flick into a creepy supernatural horror, which was flagged effectively and produced some excellent moments. Unfortunately the “reveal” is something we’ve seen a dozen times before: from Fight Club and A Tale of Two Sisters (and the American remake Uninvited) to Identity and Switchblade Romance, you literally will not be shocked by this reveal. It’s just a little disappointing the house wasn’t actually haunted by ghosts of children, mean men and one weird mud-covered bald bloke. Again, for those who rarely watch horror this might be revelatory, but for most of us it will be a little shrug-worthy and clichéd.

Overall Silent House is a scary-as-hell horror film ideally suited for infrequent fans of horror. Elizabeth Olsen is excellent and the score is utterly superb, but if you’re a horror lover then this might be a little too familiar to gain the intended impact. Is it just one big gimmick to secure audiences though? No, but does it greatly benefit from this revelatory method of filmmaking? Not really.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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