Silent House is that rare film that actually lives up to the hype in nearly every way. Founded on an ingenious and superbly executed device, the suspense drama is presented as if in real time in what seems to be a single shot. While there are some shockingly weak performances by the supporting cast, the outrageously talented Elizabeth Olsen single-handedly carries Silent House beyond the realms of a gimmick into a tour de force bravada performance piece.
Directed by the same team that created Open Water (Chris Kentis and Laura Lau), Silent House begins innocently enough with an image of a lone young woman, Sarah (Olsen) sitting on the rocks of the shore of an isolated lake. The exceptional cinematography provided by Igor Martinovic accomplishes some magnificent feats of visual trickery throughout the film, but none so seamless as the manipulation of the camera here as it moves in one fell swoop from bird’s eye to ground level. The simple yet effective adjustment gracefully transitions the camera’s perspective and draws the viewer immediately into the story, placing the audience in the position of what is to be Sarah’s constant companion. The camera now unites Sarah’s point of view with that of the viewer – what it sees, Sarah sees, and what Sarah feels is authentically projected upon the viewer. Trust me, you will jump out of your seat and feel the flesh crawl on your skin.
What is particularly impressive is the impact of the simple story, which is based on a film by Gustavo Hernández released in Uruguay in 2010. The heroine, Sarah is naturally frightened by the spooky events taking place in her family’s dilapidated retreat house, but due to the remoteness of the location she is unable to access outside assistance of any kind. This may sound like a lot of other scary movies designed to entrap the protagonist in an unrealistic manner, but Silent House works on a whole other level of suspense that never leaves the viewer feeling cheated or cheaply manipulated.
It’s not that our heroine can’t get out because she actually does escape the confines of the house at one point (which provides the audience with a much-needed break from the ever-increasing palpable sense of claustrophobia). But don’t be fooled, this is just a tease. As much as she wants to leave, and as much as the audience wants Sarah to get as far away as possible, screenwriter Laura Lau has skillfully established some compelling conditions that keep Sarah from being able to do so, increasing the already heightened level of anxiety to a frenzy. In fact, the writing and Olsen’s performance are so fine you not only believe the moment Sarah opts to return to the house, you can’t wait till she does. If this isn’t emulating Hitchcock in the best possible way I don’t know how else one can do it?
Silent House is a well-executed mix of mystery and thriller, guaranteed to satisfy even the most jaded fan of the genre. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect film as there is a bit of a let down in quality at the very end of the tale where the story momentarily takes a turn into stale and overused territory. I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say, Adam Trese, who plays Sarah’s father, is somewhat obligated to a performance that leaves a bit to be desired. However, when you consider the whole of the picture it is a small and pardonable offense. After all, the absolute final moment of the film provides such a powerful release of emotions I have no doubt you will immediately want to see Silent House again, and then again, and then again. Not just to catch all the hidden clues you missed the first time around, but to once again see Olsen’s impressive ability. No doubt she will be one to watch in years to come.