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Silent House: A flimsy house of cards

Neil Mathieson | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Houses are scary. They crack, creek and contort our imaginations to believe that something is going bump in the night. In “Silent House,” something really is going bump in the night. This American re-do of a Uruguayan horror film stars the lesser-known Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, who while helping her father clear out their old summer house is terrorized by some nefarious intruder.
Olsen’s responsibilities as an actress in “Silent House” are daunting to the say the least. The movie moves briskly at an 85-minute run time but it’s edited to look as if it is all happening within one continuous shot.
Therefore, Olsen is on screen for the entirety of the film and spends most of it hushed as a strange intruder stalks her. She is left with only facial expressions, screams and my personal favorite, screams where no noise comes out.
The camera follows her closely while simultaneously being egregiously fixated on her cleavage. Olsen does a commendable job but the film hangs together by such weak threads that it doesn’t do her performance proper justice.
The cinematic decision of using a continuous shot throughout “Silent House” is often a useful gambit that establishes a hair-raising atmosphere of suspense. One of the older and more notable examples includes Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.
“Silent House” does create this suspense initially, but fails to hold it. Over the course of the film it becomes more of a gimmick than a crescendo to a cathartic and terrifying climax. On the whole, the acting is staler than bread during the revolution and the writing didn’t appear to survive the translation into English.
“Silent House” even gets a little avant-garde in its later stages but causes more confusion than it does intrigue. Most importantly, however, “Silent House” isn’t frightening. In fact, it’s far less frightening than its trailer. There were no screams from the gallery and it appeared that after an hour the viewers’ iPhones became more fascinating than what was on screen.
Unfortunately, I cannot disagree with them. In “Silent House” the camera shakes incessantly and the dim lighting causes the audience to strain their eyes in an attempt to make sense of what they are seeing. However, when the image is finally revealed to us the payoff is furiously underwhelming and we feel as if we have been strung along for nothing. In a word we were cheated.