Silent House Reviews
This is just one of those films that I can't really gather my thoughts on. One one hand, I love the idea; on the other hand, the execution isn't great. Silent House has a lot of promise. Elizabeth Olsen does a good job as the girl were following around for 88 minutes. The other actors, not so much. Also, I loved the way the film was shot. We're stuck following a girl around a house that is getting weirder as we go along.
Sarah is helping her father and uncle pack up the old, family lakeside house. When her uncle leaves, only the father and daughter are left in the house. Then weird things begin happening. Sarah thinks she hears something up stairs, father goes to check it all out. Everything is fine. Father goes missing. Daughter is being chased.... Yeah, so it's not very original. I can't honestly sit here and say that this film is anything groundbreaking in the horror genre. Still there's something about it that makes me like it more than I should.
Silent House has received a ton of slack and I can understand that. The film drags and is down right boring at times. At other times, it managed to keep me in suspense when we were going down hallways and through doors. I wouldn't ever label this as a "scary" movie, but it has its moments that were suspenseful.
I won't lie, the film has its share of problems. For one it isn't atmospheric enough, and that's a vitally important element in a movie like this. Still, I really liked Elizabeth Olsen and the way the movie was shot altogether. I'm not sure whether or not I liked the movie as a whole or whether I was just able to put up with it enough. Still, I believe it's better than a lot of modern day horror films. Maybe that isn't saying a whole lot, but I still have some respect for this movie.
Question: Did anyone read my review of Fright Night? Well, I FINALLY go see another horror film in the theatre, my first since the vampire remake, and you remember what happened to me at that showing, right? Anyway, I am currently pushing myself out of my comfort zone as a reviewer so I decide to see Silent House. And IT happened again. I was the ONLY one in the entire movie theatre. Seriously, what are the odds!?
To be honest there was one main reason why I chose to see a horror film after all this time: Elizabeth Olsen. I saw her performance over the summer in Martha Macy May Marlene, and when I saw the trailer for this film I thought it would be worth a viewing.
Another reason I broke down and saw a horror in the theatre, I read this was a remake of a film from Uruguay but there was one very interesting point about both films. They were one long continuous shot. I mean the entire film, 85 minutes, is shown in one camera shot with no interruptions. I am pretty sure I have never seen this type of filmmaking before for an entire movie. Perhaps for a video or long scene but never for a film. I did not see the Uruguan Spanish-language version (The Silent House/ La Casa Muda 2010).
Another interesting point: this story is allegedly based on real happenings from the 1940's. There is no proof for its validation apparently.
Basically there isn't much to tell when it comes to summarizing what happens in Silent House, and I really want to keep the story a mystery, of course. However, I will say I was pretty scared while watching most of the film, and being alone in the theatre while a huge and loud thunderstorm took place outside made it all the more intense. In fact, I thought the thunderstorm was happening in the movie at first. Why did I think that? There is a part in the film when she goes into the old, boarded-up and dilapidated house, locks the door and is in there for a long time without any electricity. That is exactly when the storm began. Only when there was a scene outside the house did I realize the thunderstorm was real. Again, what are the odds!?
Visually Silent House was very realistic. By the way the camera was held, and not still might I add, made you feel like you right there. Nearly the entire film the camera followed Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen's character) and her experience of what happens, with a lot of close-ups. At times it was disconcerting but it helped heighten the intense emotions she was experiencing (and raised my blood pressure). However if you have motion-sickness issues you might feel a little queasy at points especially during the times when she is running and the camera's viewpoint is extremely wobbly.
After watching the entire film and figuring out what really happens brought me through an array of emotions. First scared, then terrified, then a little nauseated, then full-on angered, and finally relieved with a "hell yeah!" sigh at the very end. No, I will not explain why but you will understand once you view the film.
Elizabeth Olsen was great in Silent House. Her acting ability looks effortless. She is just authentic. To stay in character, and one who had to portray a myriad of intense and unnerving emotions that never made the audience think she was acting, is a testament to how talented this young woman is. However, the others in the film weren't as convincing, in my opinion, and threw the film off a little bit.
My favorite part: Elizabeth Olsen.
My least favorite part: A revelation towards the end.
Directed by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau, Elle Driver, 2011.
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens and Julia Taylor Ross.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller.
Length: 85 minutes
Review: 6 out of 10
Nate's Grade: B-
This technique is ultimately the film's downfall as by constantly following Olsen's character we lose all suspense. In a good horror movie the editing would create the suspense as we would know just what it is our character should be fearful of. We can't scream "Don't go in the basement" if there's no reason for us to be afraid of the basement.
It seems every other modern horror movie ends with one of two predictable "twists" (I'm sure you know the ones I mean) and this follows suit. Can we please put these to bed once and for all? The big revelation also ventures into territory that is unnecessarily dark for what should be a simple Friday night frightfest.
Olsen is far too good for this sort of rubbish but she really puts herself into the role and gives it a dignity the movie doesn't deserve. Her buxom figure is exploited so much that there are shots where her breasts are in sharper focus than her face. Just to make sure her supremely impressive cleavage is always visible she carries a lantern at chest height. Couple this with the bad video camerawork and you'd be forgiven for mistaking this for one of those porn ripoffs of a horror movie.
If the digital revolution means more films of this poor quality we are set for trying times indeed.
Laura Lau's screenplay is not so much weak, nor even all that terribly flawed, yet it is flawed nonetheless, with characterization that is perhaps not quite as fleshed out as it should be, as well as a minimalist story that Lau tries to pad out to about 80 minutes of real time as organically as she possibly can, or at least to begin with, because after a while, it's as if Lau just gives up and submits to the story's profound minamlism by lazily laying down one overdrawn set piece after another, thus leaving repetition to set in and retard the film's progress, which is ironic, seeing as how repetition grows more and more intense as the film progresses because the nothingness that spawns repetition grows more and more intense as the film progresses. Nothingness intensifies little by little with the film's progression (Speakign of repetition), so I guess you could say that the writing gets thinner and lazier as things go along, thus it would only make sense that the writing gets to be at its laziest when it comes to the twist ending, which shifts themes and presents radically different aspects so dramatically and so suddenly - with plot and characterization holes abound and a cop-out of an abrupt "conclusion" - that it creates an immense kind of embarassing unevenness that you really do have to see to believe, as this film really does throw things way off into another direction that possibly could have worked, were it not for its being so startlingly forced, slam-banged and altogether inconsistent that it betrays the rest of the film. It doesn't help that the "payoff" - such as it is - isn't even all that terribly original, much like the rest of this film's story, for although this film's ending is hard to predict, mostly because it's hard to expect a film like this capping off so messily, most everything else is very easy to spot, as the film plummets into quite a few conventions, if not all-out cliches, which is a flaw that does admittedly find itself toned down a touch by the uniqueness of the style, and even then, while this film's novelty is unique and clever, it too gets to be a bit detrimental to the final product, and for various reasons. With this being an independent film about someone walking around when not trying to hide that is presented entirely in 80-something minutes of real time, you better believe that things get slow, though not quite as slow I'm making it sound, as this film is surprisingly never dull, thanks largely to the atmospheric and acting strengths that I'll get into later, yet things do decidedly get way too quiet and go on for way too long, which really emphasizes this film's do-little plot and script to where the film, if nothing else, loses quite a bit of steam, something that is already in short supply due to the stylistic choices', not just being a bit too much, but just plain being, because with all of this endless tracking, it's near-impossible to not feel the presence of the camera too much, and by extension, like an outsider who is not part of this world. Sure, this film's single-shot format is immersive in a kind of environmental fashion that I'll go more into later, but as far as atmosphere is concerned, the fly-on-the-wall illusion all but shatters cinematic illusion by creating a kind of distance between you and this film's world, which leaves the film to quickly lose steam that it recovers more often than expected, yet not quite often enough. Now, with all of my complaints about the premise and concepts, this project is a very promising one that could have hit harder, and very much deserves to hit harder, but ultimately falls short of its potential, held back by its flaws and even, to a certain degree, some of the very aspects that could have made it truly rewarding. However, no matter how much I go on with my complaints, I'd be lying if I didn't say that these flaws aren't quite as intense as I make them sound, and that this film really does come close to genuinely good, for although this final product stands to hit harder, it still lands more than a few commendable hints, particularly of a stylistic nature.
This film's defining stylistic choice, or rather, gimmick goes built around Igor Martinovic's photography direction, and as I said, that doesn't always work, yet perhaps more often than not, this film's photography helps in making the final product as enjoyable as it is, for the cinematography that this film relies so heavily upon truly is remarkable, in its look alone, as Martinovic's lighting and color boasts a depth and grit that is truly strikingly beautiful in its griminess and never fails to catch your eye. Still, when you get down to it, it's the camerawork that is most remarkable about the cinematography, and is certainly among the most remarkable about the overall film itself, for the real time simulated continuous shot is a flawed stylistic choice, but one that I would consider perhaps more advantageous to the film than detrimental, for although the fly-on-the-wall effect dilutes the storytelling's steam and helps greatly in making the final product a bit underwhelming, this real time simulation remains an extremely nifty novelty, whose uniqueness both, as I mentioned earlier, restrains much of the sting of the conventions that this film falls into, and livens up intrigue a bit, not just because it's so interestingly stylish, but because it does supplement immersive about as much as it detracts from it. Sure, in the long run, emotional and atmospheric immersiveness is what truly counts, and this film's single-shot real time illusion, as I've said time and again, leaves you feeling all too aware that you're just watching a movie, yet all but compensates for its atmospheric shortcomings by delivering environmentally, in that it provides a very in-depth analysis upon the setting this film is so heavily reliant upon, and plants you, not as deeply as it should, but just deeply into this world for you to get a feel for the claustrophobia, danger and overall tension in the environment. A little over 40 minutes into this film, Elizabeth Olsen's Sarah character manages to get outside for a moment, and once she does, the camera tightly follows her hauling it for dear life, and moments such as those really do put this film's single tracking shot style to breathtakingly dizzying great use, and were there many more moments like that, which are genuinely effective, and less moments of distancing gimmick that occupy just enough of this film to render the final product generally underwhelming, this film would have made for a rewarding one, yet things stand, for every moment in which the novelty takes you out of the film, there is a moment in which the novelty really does bring this film to life, or at least just enhances intrigue, which still wouldn't be as striking as it is were it not for directors Chris Kentis' and Laura Lau's atmosphere, which may go undercut by Kentis' and Lau's directorial faults, as well as, to a certain extent, Lau's writing faults, yet plays with the film's trippy darkness and style, as well as Nathan Larson's subtly neat score work, to establish an ominous air of suspense, if not all-out tension, that keeps you going, sometimes while at the edge of your seat. The missteps in the film taint the effectiveness of the thrills, yet the chills still stand firm, and effective enough to help in carrying this film, being matched, if not outdone by, of course, the lovely Elizabeth Olsen, who further proves herself to be an up-and-coming powerhouse of an actress by turning in yet another powerful performance. Now, don't go in too excitied kids, because our lovely leading lady isn't quite as outstanding as she was in the breakout Lizzie Olsen film of Sundance 2011 that beat this film to official release, last year's "Marth Marcy May Marlene", as Olsen's material asks her to be primarily much more broad than atmospheric in her emoting, and to not don too many layers, so don't go in expecting a performance quite as glowing as the one that I expected, yet do expect something worthy of, at the very least, honorable mention under the Best Actress category on my list of the best of 2012, for Olsen delivers on remarakably intense broad emotional range that sells her Sarah character's terror, while defying much of the material limiting to deliver on an atmosphere that is, in fact, rather piercing, and even on layers, which may not be all there in the writing department, yet are certainly there, and relatably human in Olsen's performance. The very human and emotionally-involved presence and range of Olsen is restrained a touch by the limiting in material, yet Olsen presents a lead who both humanly vulnerable and, to a certain extent, strong, and just enough to make the Sarah character both an effective audience and compelling lead, as well as yet another role through which Olsen flaunts her potential, for although she can't carry this film past its shortcomings, she carries the final product and stands among the reasonable amount of strengths that keep this film going.
To quiet everything down, this promising project plummets into quite a few conventions and other lazy writing missteps, - from repetition to do-nothing set pieces for the sake of padding - which grow more and more intense, until we finally come down to a ill-concieved cheaply faulty "payoff" - if you even want to call it that, seeing as how it doesn't really pay off - that betrays a film already tainted quite a bit by the aformentioned missteps, as well as a fly-on-the-wall emotional distance caused by the film's real time single-shot stylistic choice, which helps in leaving the film to fall short of its potential, but, at the same time, helps in making the final product as enjoyable as it is, for Igor Martinovic's film-defining photography boasts a striking, beaten in impressiveness only by the nifty camerawork that makes the single shot illusion verisimilar and plants you in, if nothing else, the environment, and firmly enough to supplement the intrigue established by directors Chris Kentis' and Laura Lau's atmosphere, which goes further brought to life by the compellingly emotional, somewhat layered and intense performance by the lovely, effective and promising leading lady Elizabeth Olsen that carries "Silent House" and helps in making it a generally enjoyable and often intriguing thriller, even if it does stand to thrill a bit more.
2.5/5 - Fair