Film Review: Silent House

A young woman is trapped and terrorized in the isolated summer house her father and uncle are preparing for sale in this derivative thriller--a remake of a Uruguayan film--whose big twist horror fans will figure out long before it arrives.

Squabbling brothers John (Adam Trese) and Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) are taking a last look around their family's old summer house with an eye to what it will take to spruce it up for potential buyers. John's teen daughter Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is there as well, supposedly working for her dad but actually doing little more than look fetching in her mini and t-shirt, whose spotless whiteness cries out to be dirtied up.

Sarah seems a little on the jumpy side, but who wouldn't be? The house is a warren of gloomy rooms with boarded-up windows, squeaky doors, creaking floorboards and oppressively patterned wallpaper; the electricity is off, there's no cell-phone coverage and the place is a symphony of thuds and thumps that Dad pooh-poohs as "old-house noises," the kind that drive high-strung folks to brand-spanking new condo developments.
The whole vibe is just weird, and it only gets weirder when a nerve-scraping knock on the door heralds the arrival of Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross), Sarah's best childhood friend. Except that Sarah doesn't remember her at all and Sophia knows it, creating an uncomfortable moment that Sarah tries to smooth over with an awkwardly breezy explanation involving "holes" in her head.

And then things get seriously strange: Emboldened by a “See, honey, nobody here but us” tour of the upstairs bedrooms with Dad, Sarah investigates an especially startling sound and discovers her father sprawled on the floor, battered, bleeding and barely alive. The front door is locked and the key is missing (of course it is), but Sarah manages to escape through the seriously spooky basement, though not before catching terrifying glimpses of a pair of strangers, a lurking man and a little girl.

Thank goodness Uncle Peter is just pulling up on the gravel driveway…except that he insists on going back for his brother before going to the police. You don't need to have seen a lot of scary movies to know how that works out.

Psychological thrillers often founder on less-than-stellar performances, but the only one that matters in Silent House is Olsen's and it's as unsettling as her reputation-making turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene, though that movie managed to be far creepier without a single household fixture suddenly disgorging a geyser of blood. And though Silent House's "one continuous shot" gimmick is flawlessly executed—no mean technical feat, given that it requires razor-sharp coordination between cast and crew, and one flubbed line, awkward camera movement or boom mike dipping into frame means scrapping the whole punishingly long take—it doesn't do much to ratchet up the tension: Restless camerawork is a horror-movie cliché and the gloomy shadows ensure that the viewer is preoccupied with trying to figure out what's happening within the frame, let alone notice anything else.

The bottom-line problem is that  is dull: Even non-horror-savvy viewers are likely to figure out the big reveal long before filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) show their hand—suffice it to say that in the 21st century, having not one but two characters stumble across and hastily hide a batch of Polaroids is not a subtle device.