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Thursday, March 15, 2012 10:33 pm

Illogical Silent House fails to close the deal

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One of the selling points being used to promote the claustrophobic horror film Silent House is that it was filmed in one continuous take. That would be one unbroken 85-minute marathon consisting of multiple tricky camera moves, precise choreography from the actors and finely calibrated performances from all involved. What the advantage of approaching a film in this manner is, I don’t know. In doing so, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) sacrifice the luxury of being able to edit together their footage to maximize the movie’s fright potential, which so many features in the genre rely on to deliver maximum jolts.

However, it is interesting to watch this drama unfold in “real time,” as the directors do succeed in creating an ever-mounting sense of dread. We see the film’s heroine, Sarah (Elizabeth Olson) progress from being a mild-mannered young woman to a quivering bundle of fright as unseen intruder(s) terrorize her in the summer home she finds herself trapped in. While I don’t think the film was done in one long take (there are too many neutral, staid backgrounds where the directors could have stopped the movement, locked down the camera and resumed after taking a break without a noticeable hitch), the movie being presented as a natural sequence of events taking place over 85 minutes of real time does work to create a unique sense of dread.

As for the story itself…well, I wish I could say it was just as innovative and successful. The setup is remarkably simple. Sarah has been summoned by her father (Adam Trese) to help clean out their old summer home so that it can be sold. Weather and vandals have not been kind to the house in recent years, resulting in each window being boarded up and the back and cellar doors being outfitted with padlocks. The fact that the house has no electricity, and cell phone reception is impossible due to the house’s remote location, can only mean that someone is going to have to make a desperate phone call real soon. While her Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) is also on hand to help, the animosity that’s brewing between him and his brother results in more fighting than work being done. As a result, Sarah is left to fend for herself. She is cleaning out her old room in the shadowy house when she begins to hear inexplicable noises that indicate that someone else is in the house.

Olson is the whole show here, holding together the film over long passages when seemingly nothing is happening. Yet she presents us with a slow disintegration where Sarah is concerned, starting a bit confused yet confident and progressing to a state of near catatonic fear. As she proved with Martha Marcy May Marlene, the young woman is a major talent who bears watching in years to come.

Unfortunately, her work is in the service of a script that starts strong yet contains a closing act that comes to resemble a mass of tangled kite string. Having 24 hours to mull the story over, I’m still not able to make sense of the explanation, or perhaps I should say lack of explanation, Lau’s screenplay offers. While all of the threads are present to lead us to a nearly plausible conclusion, none of them are developed far enough to offer up anything remotely satisfying. Lau is shooting for a shocking, “oh, I get it now,” conclusion but only ends up giving the audience an ending that will leave them asking all the wrong questions about the film’s plot.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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