Silent House (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-03-10 05:13

Written by: Gustavo Hernández (original film), Laura Lau (screenplay)
Directed by: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens

Reviewed by: Brett G.

For the most part, Silent House conjures up the same feeling of déjà vu for The Silent House that Quarantine did for [REC], so I really have to wonder just how effective it could ever be since it seems so perfunctory. Just as that pair of films provides dual tours of a familiar apartment buildings, the Silent House duo lets us roam through dilapidated homes in rural countrysides as girls go insane with fear. This time, though, the minimal dialogue is in English, so if you have an extreme aversion to subtitles, you too can now partake in this gimmicky, presented all-in-one-take thriller.

We also have another leading lady this time, too; now, it’s Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, a girl who is also returning to an old childhood abode that’s about to be put on the market. Her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffler Stevens) are also around to help move stuff out, and Sarah is even visited by a childhood friend (Julia Taylor Ross) that she’d all but forgotten about for some reason. Sarah claims to have a lot of holes “up there” in her mind, and, as such, the she gets a refresher course to fill in the gaps over the next 80 minutes when someone intrudes upon the house with violent intentions.

Pretty much everything that was written about the original Silent House can be repeated for this go-round; it similarly tests your patience with long, measured stretches where you watch Olsen react to things that are more heard than seen. Minimalism is the name of the game here, at least until the story unexpectedly escalates and morphs from a simple home invasion thriller to something else. Well, it’s unexpected if you’ve never seen The Silent House, in which case this part of the film probably feels a little too familiar and even tedious; having seen the original version only a month or so ago, it’s hard to say whether that familiarity made parts of the film sag or not. I can say with some certainty that Olsen at least makes the second watch compelling enough; even though I had a good idea what would happen to her, her hysterical terror still resonated through a finely tuned performance. She was quietly terrified in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, and her performance here feels similar to that one, at least at first--she’s very natural and inhabits the character well and easily brings us in. The film literally begins by hovering above her and the camera rarely leaves her, and Olsen doesn’t blink.

In addition to Olsen’s performance, the film scatters a few minor deviations from the original to keep things interesting, such as the friend that shows up, a conceit that allows for a slightly retooled ending that’s maybe slightly more dramatic than it was the first time. Conceptually, just about everything’s the same, but the eventual reveal is executed in a bit more cinematic fashion; just like its predecessor, the film’s roving, handheld style deceptively lulls you into certain expectations, so when lines begin to blur, you might be taken aback a little bit. This version does telegraph things a bit more by making certain characters overtly creepy, plus more hints are strewn throughout; given that the first Silent House was a tad predictable in its own right, I think I can fairly state that this one might as well scrawl its reveal on its decrepit walls.

For much of the runtime, I was considering deeming this to be kind-of-sort-of-maybe better than the original, but then it just sort of quit instead of providing a logical stopping point; as gimmicky as the original is, it also leaves you with a haunting final sequence that captures the main character’s despair and loneliness; this one just abruptly ends amongst turmoil. This isn’t a found footage film, but I can certainly imagine it eliciting the same sort of “that’s it?” whispers as the lights come up in the theater. However, there’s no denying that the journey to get to that point is pretty well done--the team here is the same one responsible for Open Water, so they’re sort of re-treading familiar waters, stylistically speaking. Once again, the camera bobs and weaves throughout this house, and the one-take illusion is kept up rather well (there are obviously cuts, but they’re well-buried); this method suffocates viewers by getting them lost in the house’s obtuse geography, leading to a sense of entrapment.

I don’t generally like to get too hung up on comparing remakes, but, in this case, it’s inevitable. If you’ve seen the first take, this one offers a better central performance but a weaker ending, so it’s a bit of a wash. For the uninitiated, recommending either is a bit of a crapshoot; both are technical marvels in terms of precision, and each represents the type of atmospheric, slow-burning jolters that are fun to watch with a crowd. Since the one from Uruguay provides the blueprint, it gets the nod, at least ever so slightly; still, this American update provides an adequate amount of suspense and jumps, all the while making Elizabeth Olsen even more of a revelation. We’ll be lucky to keep her around in the horror genre, so enjoy her while you can. Rent it!

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