This single-shot horror sees a neat gimmick and Elizabeth Olsen wasted through poor writing and direction.
The promotional material for the film Silent House that currently adorns the walls of the London Underground consists of an image of the actress Elizabeth Olsen, presumably taken from the film itself. After viewing the film however, one might be forgiven for believing that it was actually captured immediately after the first cast and crew screening, given that it pictures the actress looking down on the film’s title and, apparently, weeping hysterically.
There is so little with which to recommend Silent House, the third feature from the duo that brought us 2003's Open Water, that one can only hope that Josh Radnor’s sparkling campus comedy Liberal Arts arrives on our screens swiftly, as it serves as a much more deserving sophomore platform to Olsen’s sensational turn in 2011's superb cult chiller, Martha Marcy May Marlene.
A remake of the Uruguayan genre festival favourite, La Casa Muda, both films share the same USP, purporting to consist of a single, unbroken 88-minute take. With La Casa Muda, director Gustavo Hernández used the technique as a formal experiment in generating tension through a heightened subjectivity of focus, placing the audience inescapably by the side of the film’s lead actress and utilising the edges of the frame to unsettling effect.
In repurposing the film for an English-speaking audience, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau demonstrate not only a remarkable misunderstanding of what made the original film work, but also a distinctly dedicated sense of compositional avoidance.
The single take idea offers the potential to craft scares without relying on a rapid cut to do so, but the directors quickly prove they simply aren’t up to the task. Whip pans and focus shifts are so poorly judged and timed that the only recourse to deliver a jump is to crank up the sound design and slam the odd door.
Olsen does her best with what she’s given, but the atrocious expositional dialogue ("Did you leave those tools on the ground?") is matched only by supporting performances desperately in need of re-takes: a real problem when you’re supposed to be shooting a movie in one.
If all of the above weren’t enough, the single biggest problem that Silent House faces is its ludicrous, entirely nonsensical 'twist'. Signposted so early that it might as well have been emblazoned on Olsen’s T-shirt, it leaves such a bad taste in the mouth with the direction it takes that what could have ultimately just been forgettable, finally annoys.
After Martha Marcy May Marlene, Olsen is definitely one to watch.
A neat gimmick and great actress wasted through poor writing and direction. Which just leaves…
…the 'twist'. Ludicrous and offensive in equal measure. Avoid.