Friday, March 16, 2012

Movie Review: Silent House

Silent House ***
Directed by: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau.
Written by: Laura Lau based on the screenplay by Gustavo Hernández.
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen (Sarah), Adam Trese (John), Eric Sheffer Stevens (Peter), Julia Taylor Ross (Sophia).

Spoiler Warning: Although the following review does not reveal the ending of Silent House, it may give too many hints – and this is a film that works best the less you know about it. You’ve been warned.

The problem with many horror films is that eventually they have to end, and the filmmakers have to come up with an explanation for everything that came before – and often no matter what explanation they give, it is unsatisfying. More often than not, the explanations we come up with while watching a horror film – or the uncertainty of what is going to happen altogether – is better than what the filmmakers can possibly come up with. So it is with Silent House, who for about 75 of its 88 minute running time is a truly frightening, ingeniously shot, wonderfully acted horror film that just goes off the rails at the end. I`m not sure if any explanation for what happened would have been satisfactory, but I am quite sure that few explanations could have been worse.

The movie stars at one of those dark, rundown, secluded houses that horror movies love. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is at the house with her father John (Adam Trese) and Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens). It is a family home, that hasn`t been used in years, and squatters and partiers have pretty much trashed the interior and broken all the windows – which Uncle Peter has boarded up. They have no power and no phone, and the house is far enough out in the country that they do not even get cell phone service.

The movie sets up its atmosphere early – everywhere Sarah goes in the house she has to carry a lantern or a flashlight. The house starts out dark and gets even darker as it goes along. We know something is not quite right the moment Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) shows up to talk to Sarah. Apparently, they are old childhood friends, but Sarah seems to have no memory of her. They make plans to get together later – but there is something about Sophia that isn’t quite right – she`s just a little too creepy.

The movie, directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau - who wrote and directed the ingenious indie horror film Open Water – Silent House, appears to take place in real time – that is that the entire movie looks like one continuous take, with no editing. Some audiences members will undoubtedly hate that about the movie – it requires to entire film to be shot in the handheld style – constant movement, shaky camera work – but for me, this style works amazingly well, gradually ratcheting up the tension, and at times being almost unbearably intense and frightening, as someone or something is in the dark house with Sarah, and her father – who gets hurt early and then disappears. Elizabeth Olsen, so brilliant in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a great horror movie heroine – real, emotional and seemingly genuinely terrified. She is the heart of every scene – nearly every shot – and she holds the camera, and the audience, in rapt attention. It is a brilliant performance in a hard role and movie.

And then, the ending of the movie comes. Did I see the end coming? Yes. Would I have seen it had I not heard that the movie was a remake of a European film (and European filmmakers seems to love this type of ending) or that many found the ending disappointing? I’m not sure. But whether or not I could see the end of movie coming, it still would have been a stupid ending – the type of ending that quite simply makes no sense. I was disappointed in the end of the movie, which strikes me as a lame way to explain everything.

And yet, so much of Silent House is wonderful, I cannot simply dismiss the whole movie. Had the filmmakers come up with a better ending, this could have been one of the great horror movies in recent memory. But as it stands, it is still a good movie – but it does leave a bad taste in your mouth.

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