I look at story first and foremost with films, but sometimes visuals can wow me to the point wherein I forget that there's a plot I was supposed to be following. Silent House is such a case, and gleefully so, as it is held up by the strengths of it's technical prowess. Proudly boasting an implied 88 minute long take, filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau tell a small, inclusive tale with purely genius scares, thanks to the clever manipulation of camera work and audio. Where this kind of movie could easily fail is the somewhat trite circumstances that come with its premise, but Kentis, Laura, and lead actress Elizabeth Olsen don't let it happen. The combination of her confident and bold performance, and the filmmaking that captures it in clever ways is what makes this movie work. It works practically beyond the idea that a story is in fact really important. In this case, it doesn't make much sense. But it's somehow admirable, in touching very interesting psychological points, even if it doesn't succeed in going really far with it, or impressing much. But this aspect, shockingly, can be overlooked, when you enter this movie just to be scared and to be entertained. Silent Home will very much scare you, and provide a mind numbingly interesting, even fun experiment of a movie, especially for fans of filmmaking and all the trappings of such technical works. It comes off as a bias, but the appreciated actually helps make for an experience that all can enjoy and shield their eyes, and in this case ears, from.
Sarah's memory is full of holes, as she would say. But such is brushed off as mere quirk when change occurs- her (Elizabeth Olsen), her father (Adam Trese), and her uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens), are lakeside at their family vacation home, renovating the place and taking pictures for insurance purposes, in preparation for a sale. Other than being a big trigger for nostalgia, the place is practically uninhabitable. A home to squattnow ers and creepers alike, the place no longer has electricity, causing our group to use flashlights and lanterns. As well, the place is 90% lined with mold- the top floor is barely able to hold itself together. Strangest of all, the front door does not have a deadbolt, meaning that you cannot get in OR out unless you've got a key. That would suck if you lost the key, right?
After catching up with an old friend during an intriguing confrontation, Sarah's uncle and father have a brotherly argument, which leads to Uncle Peter heading out to blow off steam and do some errands. Now father and daughter, the two decide to get some things done, under the hard command of her father, who demands respect and that she follow her orders- something tells me that he's always been like this. She rummages through her old room, looks at toys, finds a red box that she doesn't have the key for, shakes it, then tosses it aside as if there was nothing important about it- standard spring cleaning. Then things get interesting, as Sarah is hearing people upstairs. Scared for all the right reasons, she asks her father to check it out for her... With her. In one of the bedrooms, he finds a set of polaroids that he immediately pockets, and brushes off as if it were nothing. Suspicious fishes be malicious... Anyway, they truck on, and at some point, Sarah is alone. Then she hears loud noises, the sound of someone falling down the stairs, and then nothing. After some investigation, looking for her father, and frantic sprinting one would do to enter and exit their kitchen in the middle of the night just for a snack, she finds her dad knocked out. Like, on purpose- THERE'S SOMEONE ELSE IN THE DAMNED HOUSE. So now Sarah, who is also lacking a key to the front door, must find a way out and escape the clutches of whoever the hell, or whatever the hell is stalking her.
I'm going to get an easy point out of the way here, that no matter what one would think of the film, would have to agree with. Olsen's performance is a complex one that she takes on bravely and manages to pull off naturally. I say this in considering that the protagonist role of Sarah requires the lead to look scared, and Olsen looks SCARED SHITLESS. The few moments of normality that exist early on let her showcase a very cute personality, but as per the plot, one with some baggage, known or not. The relationship between her and her dad is well expressed via her and her alone, really (mainly because the father role, along with the uncle, isn’t entirely special or astounding in any respect), and how she treats and obeys him, along with an overall… teenage kind of sensibility that she sports. It works well with the plot and her place within it. She’s probably the best aspect of the story, but even better is how Olsen tackles her role as the film legitimately enters hell-state and becomes a full-on horror film.
The looks of terror she contorts her face through don’t seem fake in the slightest- you would be this ugly and broken looking if you were going through these messed up events. Practically on the verge of tears and screams most of the time, Olsen’s Sarah is just barely making it through not only alive, but in a sane fashion. Seeming to feel the need to break down at every turn or after every chase, Olsen’s portrayal of fear is horrifically genuine, making the occurrences that much scarier, as she works like a perfect cipher for the audience into this hellish world, rather, cramped dark space (which is much worse.) Olsen’s face fills up pretty much every frame of the film, and in many moments, the entire screen, with her face quietly screaming for mercy and out of an utterly rattled mindset. Her performance would’ve been impressive regardless, but the fact that the movie so often relies on her performance to really deliver the underlying attitude really makes it a highlight that should be acknowledged and even praised regardless of how one feels about the story or technical prowess sported.
I do not care if this literally was not done in one long 88-minute take. No one should care whether it was or not. Instead, it's the implication alone that matters and succeeds in holding up this movie's biggest strength. The camera is practically always moving, and both directors, along with cinematographer Igor Martinovic utilize every small visual tick in the book, but for the better and sparingly, thus strengthening their respective effects. Being somewhat of a fan of the shaky-camera, handheld “cinema verite” style (we don’t get zooms, we’re okay), I think it was at use here in appropriate doses. The film is generally still, yet curious, not hesitating to whip around to points of interest, or refocus itself to various highlight sights, but at its own steady, almost beautifully choreographed pace, when things are not so hectic- controlled chaos to beautifully nerve-wrecking ends. The film knows how to stir up intensity with its camera work, with the clever use of extreme close ups and lingering observation. When our dear Sarah hides or is desperately in the middle of an action while being chased, the camera gets REALLY close to her panicked and utterly terrified face, which is practically on the verge of tears for a majority of the film. In return of studying her face, we’re put in these trembling shoes in such moments of dire context, and they’re absolutely unbearable in terms of dread- this movie will mess you up because of how on edge it’ll make you.
Let's look at opposite extremes. When its time to run for her life, Sarah is followed by some of the most abrasive camerawork seen on film, and not only is it bold, but pretty cool. There are times where she is rushing for safety within the house where the camera does good by keeping her in frame and pretty much speed walking- the composition is lovely, but the tension level is still on par with the characters’. My favorite thing, though, is during a few key moments where she literally escapes danger by inches, and thus sprints for her goddamned life, without a care for what the hell she is running toward or whatever- she has to get the hell out of there. The camera books it like there’s no tomorrow, and while in most occasions and for most audience members, shaky camera will cause motion sickness and annoyance, here it is entirely, I wouldn’t say necessary, but appropriate in these terms because at that shift of pacing, you are practically screaming in your head or aloud to the screen that Sarah must GET OUT RIGHT NOW. You are in that moment of hair-pulling horror and hyper-tension, and as Sarah and the camera are pretty much sprinting as fast as they can, blurring the frames and all notions of sanity, it’s fascinating and frightening at once, but overall, just flat out cool.
The camera’s presence is interestingly tested, especially when covering moments of intrigue. We get glimpses of the action via peeks through windows and half-open doors, much like as if we were hiding. Cheesy, now that I spell it out, but the result is nonetheless terrifying, and doesn’t really come off as hokey in the slightest. The camera also presents many cases of dramatic irony, for lack of a better phrase, as we get to see things that Sarah and gang don’t recognize as present. As she searches rooms and piles of boxes, the camera might catch a glimpse of a silhouette, or something in a mirror. Again, maybe it’s a bit of a cheat, but a cheat that works and works well. This movie and the filmmakers behind it seem to have a penchant for testing the rules, and ultimately breaking them, not really for the sake of gimmick, but rather, it seems like for purpose of exploration and experimentation. This is something to appreciate, despite your opinion on the results, because Kentis and Lau tried hard for something terribly ambitious, and to many, especially proprietors of filmmaking techniques for storytelling and delivering heft in emotion, their efforts are noble and successes.
Where we can’t necessarily praise them is with the film’s plot, which is pretty much busted and force-fed. The set up of the story feels pretty standard for a horror film. Character traits, backgrounds, and rules to the setting are introduced, and you have a good feeling of how things are about to go down. While the horror movie feeling delivery is fantastic, Silent House fumbles and goes for an undeserved close with its plot. The thing is that early on, characters are more or less blatantly saying things about theirselves, with an implied “this matters”, and are kind of forced to do actions that draw attention to certain props and stuff. Not too much subtlety is on display so far. By the time the disturbingness gets going and we see more… hallucinogenic moments, things become flat-out confusing instead of intriguing, except for maybe a moment. The film tries to have depth and symbolism in things, but pretty much yells that fact away in its proceedings. And then by the time we reach the climax and revelations of truths, it drops all these ideas and plot points that are not only far fetched, but in some ways, nonsensical. There’s a bold nature to the ideas and claims presented, but not much of it makes sense, though the film acts like it all is worthy and appropriate. This aspect was definitely a situation where good thoughts and intentions laid beforehand, but instead of actual effort, it seems like some quick brush-overs were given and approved without second thought. It comes off as lazy, honestly, and yet the film tends to overshadow these negative aspects with a “Yeah, but” or two, which are in its own way, deserved.
Action movies these days are lauded by moviegoers who are okay with shutting off their thinking caps for the runtime, and rightfully so. Not to say that films should lack depth from now on, but this style over substance label isn’t always a stigma. Silent House is a film where it is appropriate to let things go and just enjoy the novelty of it all. It does what most video games do right for the survival horror genre. Manipulating the lights and sounds of the titular setting, Kentis and Lau disarm you down to nothing, absolutely alone, in a confined, hellish and/or horrific locale with just the antagonist zeroing in on you. The feeling of isolation, combined with moments that make you quite literally blind or deaf, are brilliantly rendered and will creep you out to no end, while still managing to make you nod your head in approval. It’s right in the title, folks, This movie thrives off silence, and the general notion of taking away senses. This movie really lets the sound, or lack thereof, and visuals push you to the edge of glory… sanity, and in some cases, straight off the cliff. There is a moment near the end of the film that leaves you in pitch black, with only one way of seeing that in premise alone, will make you cry like a bitch. While a majority of the scares are clearly in jump-form, it’s entirely justified and clever about the use of such, thus rendering it pretty much a non-issue that you accept, instead of roll your eyes over.
Calling back to the cinematography, it really is treated like a 3 person perspective you’d see in a video game. The film draws many relations to a 2010 game named Alan Wake, which played heavily with themes of light and horror. Much like that and many other games, there are quite literally moments similar to a video game’s “quick time event”, wherein you are trying to concentrate on pressing specific buttons called out for you, or mashing on a singular button with all of your might to get out of a situation. Silent House finds moments like Sarah trying to open a lock and enter a door- she keeps dropping the key and cannot concentrate on unlocking the door. Fashionably, as if you were in any sort of control, are also in this feeling of “Fuck, fuck fuck”, and screaming inside or releasing this tension via tapping or something- this movie will break you with how on edge you’ll feel. It’s a harsh feeling that the movie forces you into, and in masochistic fashion, I loved every second of it. This stuff makes this movie fantastic, with the plot’s flaws and all. If anything, this results in the story feeling like a mere formality to an overall more impressive, forefront matter at hand, which is a technically masterful horror story- like a side-showcase to the actual survival story and adventure we gain the enjoyment from following.
Just to clarify, I don't think this movie is perfect, by any means- it in fact has it's fair share of flaws, specifically with its plot. Generally speaking, it's a broken story. But they at least push on with confidence, and by that same token, I think Kentis and Lau, in addition to Elizabeth Olsen, do enough impressive work to counter that and make for an enjoyable movie-watching experience. That and a brave and confrontational performance from the best Olsen sister really pull you into a believable and tense first person perspective, only strengthening the unbearable dread created via aforementioned technical atmosphere creation. If you could give less than two damns about the camera work and such, Silent House may not have as much to offer for you as it does for me. Yet even putting that stuff aside, rather trying to, you can't deny that these aspects work together to make some very aggressive and smart scares, overall building a very good horror adventure, guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat or cowering within it.
Silent House gets 4/5, for how many times I accidentally called it Silent Hill when talking to someone about it. That other time, I called it Sonic the Hedgehog. Don't judge.
Trailer: Silent House
This English-language remake of a Uruguayan film is, like its predecessor, shot in one single 88-minute-long take. In other words, up yours, Cuarón.
|blog||TheLawnWrangler's Favorite Films of 2012 - PART 1||TheLawnWrangler|
|blog||UK Box Office Report: 4/5/12 - 6/5/12||jackanderson|
|blog||The Month In Movies UK: May 2012||jackanderson|
|review||Cinematic Gimmick Gives Average Movie Surprising Legs (3 out of 5)||litrock|
|review||silent house (4 out of 5)||TheLawnWrangler|
|news||John Carter Pretty Much Bombs Domestically, Kinda Doesn't Overseas, and Other Super Important Box Office News||Alex|
|forum||Where can I find this movie? Seriously. Can't find it.||Snail|