Silent House – A Review

I have an odd relationship with horror movies. One the one hand, I love to watch them and always look forward to new ones when they come out. On the other hand, they usually don’t really scare me which kind of makes the whole thing an exercise in futility. Strip away the gotcha moments and the majority of horror movies lack plot and character development, things I usually look for in a movie. So on paper, this affinity I have for the genre doesn’t really make sense.

Personally, I think I am chasing the very rare high that I get when a movie legitimately freaks me out. Usually, I may occasionally jump over the course of a film, but I don’t experience legitimate fear. When the credits roll, most horror films don’t have any lasting impact on me. This is not the case for the majority of my friends, who are traumatized with bad dreams or are jumpy after watching a scary movie.  I once had a roommate that was so freaked out by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original) that she had to pack a bag and go stay with her boyfriend, leaving me all alone in the house. I slept like a baby.

But every once in a while, a movie comes along that has all the right elements to actually scare me. And when it does, I love that rush of adrenaline. There isn’t necessarily any rhyme or reason to what is going to work for me, though it tends to happen with horror films that are more grounded in reality. Ghosts, Freddy Krueger and paranormal activity do nothing for me. Home invasions and random psychopaths have a better shot.

Silent House looked like it was going to have the right elements – a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) and her father and uncle are renovating an old family lake house when suddenly there is an intruder in the house who terrorizes them – to shake me. But, unfortunately, it failed to get the job done.

The main issue I had with Silent House was that it was incredibly slow. While a slow build can be very effective, there wasn’t enough payoff to justify it. I don’t think I jumped a single time during the film. It either needed to pick up the pace a little or give more “bang for the buck” to be effective. I could feel the audience that I saw it with (surprisingly large for a midnight showing of a non-blockbuster) losing interest. While I understand that they were trying to build a mood and that they are selling the movie as “experience 88 minutes of real fear captured in real time,” I think they devote too much time to developing the ambiance and less time to the actual terror.

There are several elements of the film that I did enjoy. The movie is presented in real time – that is, it appears to be one long single shot with no edits (and though clearly they must have made cuts for different takes, kudos to the editor for the seamless product). This does give the viewer the feeling that they are watching things as they unfold. Unlike the recent barrage of “found footage” films that have hit the theater, the cinematography is not limited by the concept that this is being taped with a camcorder or cellphone. This is not a faux documentary.  So while the filming does primarily focus on Elizabeth Olsen and what she is experiencing, they can play with camera angles and other techniques that make the movie far more interesting and innovative. I think the “gimmick,” if you want to call it that, is very effectively employed.

Elizabeth Olsen also does a good job with what she is given. She is effective at silent conveying the terror that she is experiencing. I enjoyed her work in her debut film, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and I think she is an actress to watch in the next few years. It is fortunate for the director that she is so photogenic as a large segment of the film is tight shots of her face.

The final act of the movie is sure to be polarizing. The audience I saw the film with hated it – there were audible mutters of “are you serious” and “what the —“ when the film ended. I didn’t hate the ending (I actually had figured part of it out earlier in the film), but I don’t think it 100% worked either. I give them credit for trying something a little different, but I can see why my fellow movie goers were not pleased. In some ways, it does feel a bit like a cheat. Executed a little differently and I think it could have been more effective.

Silent House did keep me up last night — not from fear, but mentally thinking of adjustments that could be made to the film to improve it. Probably not what the directors intended. I do think that there is an effective scary movie somewhere in there. It just shouldn’t be my job to find it.

Silent House opens nationwide today.

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