a zoo in hell


Silent House (2011) [Spoiler]

Silent House (2011) is a found footage movie without the found footage gimmick. As the camera clings to Sarah’s (Elizabeth Olsen) every move, it works much the same as a POV shot common in those kinds of films, and places the viewer into the action in an intimate way. For the most part this works to raise tension and provide ample opportunity for closet-jumpers and similar haunted house sorts of scares. The pacing is about the right tempo; just as I was wondering if we were going to have to watch Sarah alone for the rest of the movie the situation and drama changed to a more dynamic one.

Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is solid, many ways echoing Martha Marcy May Marlene  in portrayal of a character on the edge of being completely unhinged. She presents a range of terrors and frights, keeping her reactions interesting, but the total range of required emotions are pretty limited in this story. Unfortunately, when she shifts personalities, a la Sucker Punch, the acting feels inauthentic and stock. She’s like a high-performance machine that can’t handle slow speeds.

Much has been made of the film’s single gimmick; that the story unfolds in real-time and it was shot in one take. The first is true, the second not. There are many reasons the second one isn’t true, some of them technical, but any viewer who is paying attention will notice several edits in the film (thankfully). The film was clearly shot on DSLR, and puts the limitations of that camera to good use. The very shallow depth-of-field is used to great effect, as the image often blurs or loses anything which is too far from Sarah. This creates claustrophobia and threat. The only weakness appears during  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired flight through the woods. The DSLR is clearly struggling to keep up with the motion and the filmmakers have opted to use an effect to disguise the problem. This feels like a cheat and is too distracting.

There is, of course, a twist ending. I’ll avoid a complete spoiler, but I’ll say that this twist felt a bit forced and too much out of what is expected for the film. An ending like this works best when it is cleverly seeded from the beginning to the end, and Silent House lacks that level of plotting or detail. This doesn’t quite feel like someone just tacked on a WTF ending to have it, but it is close enough that the though occurred to me while watching. About half the audience I saw this with didn’t get it either. They didn’t buy a ticket for a mind-bending horror film; they wanted a simple slasher flick. Their loss, but this will happen a lot and limit the appeal to a wider audience.

Probably worth seeing the film that inspired this remake; The Silent House (2010)
Original The Silent House (2010)

Article first published as Movie Review: Silent House (2011) on Blogcritics.