Slashing into the art-house genre
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Mar. 9, 2012
"Silent House" is not your grandfather's horror film.
It's not your 20-year-old nephew's horror film either, by the way. Likely to disappoint fans of old-school bogeymen as well as aficionados of jokily self-referential meta-horror (think "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil"), it might just find an audience that is able to appreciate it for what it is: a scary, yet thoughtful - some might even say deep - art-house frightfest.
The question is this: Do the words "deep" and "frightfest" even belong in the same sentence?
The other question is this: Do you find a hyperventilating, helpless young woman trapped in a dark, secluded house with a crazed, possibly homicidal stalker terrifying or merely annoying?
Yes, it has one of those hyperventilators. In that sense, "Silent House" is as hackneyed as they come.
But the similarities with such films as "Halloween" end there. That's because the young woman, Sarah, played by last year's art-house discovery, Elizabeth Olsen of "Martha Marcy May Marlene," her stalker and even the "house" of the title are not what you think they are for most of the film. That's because of a twist ending that will either satisfy you deeply - there's that word again - or tick you off royally.
About it, no more can be said.
I liked it, but a few folks in the row behind me seemed to feel mildly cheated, judging by their halfhearted boos over the closing credits. That's probably because they felt invested in one thing, emotionally, only to discover that their investment was wildly misplaced.
Is that such a bad thing? It's a measure of the film's power that it connects so strongly with its audience. That's largely thanks to the verite-style filmmaking of co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Lau wrote the script, based on the 2010 film "La Casa Muda" by Uruguayan filmmaker Gustavo Hernandez).
But that's also thanks to a terrifyingly real performance by Olsen, as she runs from room to room of her family's boarded-up lake house, pursued by someone who has already - or so it seems - attacked her father (Adam Trese) and left him for dead. There's no electricity or Internet. (The house is being renovated, so everything is nailed shut and padlocked, and the house is in the middle of a cellphone dead zone.) At times, you'll feel like you're hyperventilating under the dining room table with her.
Another bit of art-house cred derives from the fact that the film purports to take place in real time. Ostensibly shot in a single, long take with no obvious cuts, "Silent House" is a masterpiece of cinematic choreography, albeit of the claustrophobic variety. Anyone who gets motion sickness from a shaky, hand-held camera that shadows its star so closely that it appears to be breathing down her neck should stay away.
In the end, though, what linger after "Silent House" are not physiological effects. It will make you jump, to be sure, and your heart to beat a little bit faster. But what's truly scariest about it takes place not in the body, but in the mind.
Contains some blood and gore, violence, obscenity and pervasive creepiness.