Review: Silent House


Silent House, you may have heard, has a gimmick, and that gimmick is a powerful one. The film, which chronicles strange goings-on at a house owned by Sarah’s (Elizabeth Olsen) father (Adam Trese), is presented in one single uninterrupted take, a gimmick shared by the film’s Argentinian original from 2010 directed by Gustavo Hernández. If you’re like me at all, that right there is probably enough to get you into the movie theater regardless of any reviews you might read. It’s a powerful, exciting gimmick to see done well, and it’s one that would translate well to a horror movie all about the claustrophobia of an old house. Silent House is also from Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, the team that brought us the underrated Open Water way back in 2003.

Unfortunately, Silent House doesn’t ever reach the creeping dread that Open Water brought, and it brings with it an utterly infuriatingly-dumb ending.

Silent House
Directors: Christ Kentis and Laura Lau
Rating: R
Release Date: March 9, 20212 (Limited)

Silent House has the benefit of a blissfully simple setup. Girl is in dark house with no power (since they’re restoring it to sell off), strange noises start popping up, crazier things start happening, etc., etc. This is Silent House‘s greatest strength. For most of the movie, until that terrible ending I mentioned, there’s just something in the house, and it seems to be stalking everyone. It could be a wrathful squatter living in the basement, it could be a malevolent spirit of some sort, or it could be something else entirely. There’s really no way we, as an audience, can tell quite what’s happening, other than it makes Elizabeth Olsen freak out to the dickens.

As much as I loved Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, where she gave one of the best performances of last year, here she’s not got a lot to work with, with a banal script and little character development. With a horror movie, that can be OK, though, and it works reasonably well here. You don’t need to know a whole lot about Sarah’s feelings and motivations, just that she’s scared out of her wits by something she doesn’t really understand. That’s fine. Olsen gives it her all, and it works despite itself.

The single take gimmick, unfortunately, is just a gimmick. After a while, it just becomes another fact of the film, never veering into anything too interesting, cinematography-wise. In addition, I’m sad to report that I think I saw a few moments where they may have snuck in a quick cut, where the camera pans completely behind something black, or there’s just enough crazy camera motion to mask a cut. It’s not a big deal, but it does break the illusion of the film as an uninterrupted take. It’s really OK, though. Not even Hitchcock could do it.

Sadly, the film has one of those terrible, terrible endings that completely destroys basically everything we’d seen previously and manages to be one of those poorly telegraphed “shocking twists!” that horror just can’t seem to get around these days, after Shyamalan made it cool with The Sixth Sense. Here’s the thing about that, though. When you learn Bruce Willis is dead at the end of that movie, it still works. The film is constructed in such a way that, rewatching it with that knowledge, the film itself changes and becomes something different. That’s cool. In the case of Silent House, there’s more of a head-scratching confusion, if you’re actually trying to put the pieces together. You’d be better off throwing your hands in the air and going, “OH COME ON!” That’s about as much sense as you’re going to get out of it.

Overall, Silent House is a mediocre film. It doesn’t do anything especially well, aside from the central single-take gimmick, and even that has its problems and lack of interesting conventions. When it’s saddled with an ending as terrible as this, however, you really have to wonder if it’s worth the journey.