Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) return to the horror genre for another unique spin on a rather basic story. Silent House is a one take horror film, which uses lengthy shots and low lighting to capture the fear and suspense of a creepy house. Elizabeth Olsen takes the solo lead role and attempts to grab your attention for a little under an hour and a half, but eventually her screams and panting wears off and Silent House‘s true colors are revealed. It’s just another disappointing horror film with an interesting premise, great actress, but no story and a twist ending that ruins everything before it.
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), her father (Adam Trese) and her uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) are gathering up a few things and working on their lakeside home out in the middle of nowhere. Certain eerie events lead to Sarah getting trapped inside the house, with unknown visitors stalking her every move. She’s forced to face this situation alone, because her father is unconscious and her uncle is briefly absent. Not knowing what lurks in the shadows, Sarah uses her survival instincts to tip-toe around the house in hopes of escaping alive.
Chris Kentis and Laura Lau approach Silent House with a unique idea in mind. They present the entire film as a one take horror film, meaning that the entire film is supposed to unfold in one single take, with the camera remaining in one fluid motion from start to finish. This is a technical achievement, because it really is an enduring experience trying to capture an entire film without one mess up. This benefits the audience by translating to a suspenseful experience that moves along in real time.
There’s no doubt that Kentis and Lau shot several takes, but the way the film does connect as a whole is impressive. They also use natural lighting, which makes the shadows that much more uncertain as Sarah makes her move from room to room. Silent House has a promising opening, with 25 minutes of pure terror that’ll make even the biggest horror buffs jump and squirm in their seats, but then that initial scare goes away and you’re left with a horror film that runs out of steam before Olsen has a chance to scream at the camera again.
Horror films like this often have the same problem. They start with a unique concept, but only expand slightly. The story becomes an afterthought as the atmosphere and jump scares takeover. The only problem with that is eventually the audience will stop caring and then you’re left with the troubling task of somehow making it all come together. Silent House never comes together and instead rides off of that original horror high, slowly declining into mundane territory.
Elizabeth Olsen was the perfect casting choice for the lead, because she’s great with roles that take their time in the reveal stage. She’s silent at first, but kicks it into high gear quickly and becomes another high-pitched screamer with a natural talent at holding her breath so the killers can’t find her. The character isn’t given anything to do, yet Olsen makes her watchable and never once wants you to leave her side.
The film also uses throwback scares like creaky doors and loud noises to convey fear and real horror. I like that it chose not to show everything on screen, because sometimes the uncertain can be scarier. Sometimes the film takes the easy way out and holds back from revealing much of anything when it should be giving us more plot points, but it almost balances itself out.
Twist endings suck and Silent House has one of the most disappointing ones I can recall. There’s just an underlining laziness to it that feels like a quick write-up to wrap things up without much thought. It ruins the entire film, because up until this point everything before it was skidding by on being watchable, but never monumental.
Silent House might spook you out and make you jump within the opening twenty minutes, but once you realize which direction the plot is going in you’ll soon want it to be over, because not even Elizabeth Olsen can cover up a stinky script with weak advancements and little reward. There’s also a few shaky cam disaster moments that rob the steady one take horror presentation and remind you of trash like The Devil Inside.
Universal brings this one to Blu-Ray with a faithful, yet lacking 1080p video transfer. This is a dark film, with minimal lighting, which means detail is the first thing to take a hit. Darkness reigns supreme, which means blacks range from consistent and rich to blocky and dampened. Some of this is because of the intention by the directors, but a majority of this specific presentation can be blamed on the rocky encode that never makes a lasting impression.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t a complete wreck, but feels poorly proportioned. Dialogue can sometimes be unbelievably hard to understand, yet the surrounding noises have no problem making you jump out of your seat. Some of the stress on the track comes from the idea of star Elizabeth Olsen being followed around by the entire crew in an open house, but that still doesn’t give them a pass in post-production.
Here’s a breakdown of the incredibly empty list of features found on the disc:
- Commentary with Co-Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
- Digital Copy
The Blu-Ray is just as empty as the bulk of the film, with a dark video transfer that remains muffled and unfocused and an audio track that has problems keeping up with itself. There’s only one real special feature on the disc, with a few portable ways to watch the film as an added bonus. It’s actually rather fitting that such an empty film gets an empty Blu-Ray experience.
Silent House is a misfire on almost all levels. It gets points for its strong lead and for its atmosphere and one take presentation, but that doesn’t cover up the film’s multiple flaws that start at the root of the story and make their way to the co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. The two do absolutely nothing with the empty script and it hurts, because this could have been the horror film of the year, which isn’t even saying much these days.
Elizabeth Olsen's scream-filled performance, combined with the one take filming technique and the minimal lighting make Silent House a creepy and atmospheric film, but the script only has enough material for 25 good minutes, with the rest of the film feeling like a stretched out mess.