Be our ghost – Silent House review

Silent House – Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, and Eric Sheffer Stevens. Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. Rated M. By Richard Haridy.

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High concept genre flicks are always hit-or-miss ventures, sometimes elevating a gimmick into the sublime (Buried , set entirely in a coffin); other times turning a curious device into a maddeningly boring enterprise (the still unreleased Maniac, shot entirely from a serial killer’s perspective). Silent House, filmed to resemble an unbroken 88-minute single take, sadly leans more to the latter than the former, losing its initial suspense to absurd plot contortions and repetitive set-pieces.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Sarah, a young girl helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) fix up their country house for sale. Sarah is immediately on edge, and upon hearing strange noises in the house, her father goes to investigate, culminating in a terror filled evening of blood, misery, and family secrets revealed. Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (on their first movie since 2003’s Open Water) take on the technical challenge of Silent House with flair. Remaking a Uruguayan feature of the same name from 2010, Kentis and Lau used a small Canon 5D camera, enabling them to virtually sit the viewer on Olsen’s shoulder for the entire running time and creating a nervy, immersive quality that, at least for half the film, is quite effective.

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Unfortunately, this remake embraces the frustrating narrative gambit of the original and entirely falls apart in the final act with a revelatory twist that cheats the audience and eliminates any goodwill generated. Olsen is magnificent though, giving us her take on the generic ‘scream queen’ role with style. After her remarkable debut in Martha Marcy May Marlene, it’s  interesting watching her try different personas out; none match the brilliance of MMMM, though all show her to be a charmingly engaging and fresh presence.

As a technical experiment in real time cinema, Silent House is fascinating, but it fails as both an interesting story and a visceral experience. The ending left such a bad taste in my mouth that I fought to remember the simple pleasures of its first half. Fans of Olsen or genre enthusiasts should give it ago. Others need be wary.

2/5

Silent House is available on DVD and Blu-ray from December 19, 2012.

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