PLOT: A young woman goes to her family's isolated cottage to help clean it up before it's sold. However, it soon becomes apparent that an outside force is determined to make her stay there a living hell.
REVIEW: SILENT HOUSE, in a lot of ways, is the cinematic version of those haunted houses you walk through at the amusement park - complete with dark corners, phantoms jumping out of nowhere, and the sound of a girl screaming every other minute. Only problem is, it's not you walking through it, it's someone else, and it's not much fun to watch someone else walk through a haunted house. It's like sitting next to your friend while they play a video game; it's a detached experience, not an immersive one. (SILENT HOUSE is also a remake, based on Gustavo Hernandez's 2010 effort LA CASE MUDA. I have not seen the original, so I went into this one clean.)
The set-up: Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) returns to her family's old lakeside cottage to help renovate, and ultimately sell, the dilapidated thing. As all abodes like this must be, its exterior is isolated and sad, though foreboding and labyrinthine within, containing more rooms, hallways and alcoves than a castle. The plan is for Sarah to assist her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) with the clean-up, but that's quickly thwarted when it becomes clear that the clan is not alone; someone or something is there with them, and it means to do them certain harm.
SILENT HOUSE's shtick is that Sarah's nightmare plays out in real time. That's to say, from the moment we open on Sara to the moment the movie ends, we're seeing it all as it actual happens, without cuts or looking away. It's not "found footage", exactly, but it serves a similar purpose: the camera is with Sarah through her entire ordeal of running, hiding, screeching and fighting whoever is in the house with her. While this is a neat idea (though not a brand new one), and effectively pulled off by Kentis and Lau, who hide their cuts in swish pans and such, it gets old swiftly. It's a novelty, and the only reason the movie exists; there's nothing really to keep us invested in SILENT HOUSE outside of the gimmick. To reuse my video game analogy, Sarah is essentially an avatar for our journey through the house, and even though the movie takes some time early on to establish her as being subtly troubled, the young woman never grows into someone we care about or root for. For all intents and purposes, the film's real-time angle is the main character.
That's not to slight the actress, however: Olsen is terrific. It can't be easy to appear so consistently terrified and traumatized, but Olsen pulls it off deftly, all trembling lips and big teary eyes as her sanity is jangled to shreds. There's little doubt that Olsen could have pulled off something even more impressive had she been given a more fleshed-out character.
Is the flick scary? Not really, although it's initially quite eerie. Kentis and Lau do a good job of establishing the interior of the cottage as a place of disquiet, with its glowing lanterns and candles, we're never privy to what the place exactly looks like, so there's an alluring, mysterious quality to the setting. Cinematographer Igor Martinovic certainly deserves most of the credit for his impressive camerawork; even though we're ultimately never fooled that we're watching one unbroken shot, it's clear that great pains were taken in the choreography and execution of several very long takes. Even if you can't thrill to SILENT HOUSE the way it wants you to, you can admire its technique. Were it more involving, the flick would be a must-see; as it stands, it's just a curio.