‘Silent House’: The last 10 minutes ruin an effective start

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Silent House

Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau

Written by Laura Lau

USA, 2012

Silent House is the sort of movie that actresses would like and critics would hate. The actresses would love it because it’s almost a one-woman show: Elizabeth Olsen is in almost every frame of the film and has the vast majority of the dialogue. The critics would hate it because it’s nearly impossible to describe why this movie fails without spoiling the ending for all of their readers.

Olsen, drafted into her role before it was even known that Martha Marcy May Marlene would be an indie hit, plays Sarah, who is helping her father and uncle fix up her childhood home. Strange things start happening to Sarah over the course of the movie’s 88 minutes, which are observed in real time with no cutaways – or, more accurately, with very well-hidden cutaways in the style of Hitchcock’s Rope.

The technical challenge is well-handled by directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water). The hand-held camera is always in a good location so as to ratchet up tension, and only one brief running scene could inflict vertigo on those viewers who are sensitive. The film is quite effective at long, drawn-out tension, although the payoffs are not actually very frightening. As in most horror films, the scare is a letdown compared to the anticipation.

Then the ending arrives. I will not spoil it, save to acknowledge that there is a twist. The bigger surprise is that even with the amount of telegraphing that the twist receives, it makes no sense for all three of the major characters. After the twist, they are behaving completely differently and all of the investment that the audience has put into them goes to waste as a result. A great many threads are left hanging, never to be resolved, and audiences may feel like they walked out of a completely different film than they watched for the first hour.

Olsen deserves credit for a completely committed performance; raw terror isn’t easy to maintain for such extended takes. However, cinematographer Igor Martinovic receives demerits for a camera which leers at Olsen’s breasts with all the subtlety of a subway flasher. Considering that the house has no electricity and she’s in a jacket and scarf in the opening shot, it doesn’t seem to make much sense for Olsen to spend most of the film with her cleavage spilling out of her skimpy undergarments. The camera then points directly at that cleavage in most shots.

Olsen’s body was fetishized in Martha Marcy May Marlene also, but to a thematic purpose; the cult which controlled Martha used sex as a primary leash. In the case of Silent House, the obsession with her body borders upon the perverse, especially considering the particulars of the film’s climax. With the kind of acting effort Olsen puts forth in this film, it might have been a good idea to inform Martinovic that her eyes are located on her face.

Mark Young

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