Directed by: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross
The last time Chris Kentis brought us a movie, it was the preposterously over-praised Open Water (2003) — an amateurish, video-looking contrivance with dismally bad acting and writing “based on a true story” about an unlikable couple who get eaten by sharks. (The non-acting and cheesy look was supposed to make it all more “real.”) Well, he’s back — with his wife, Lauren Lau (who co-produced and shot Open Water), sharing the directorial credit. (She also wrote the screenplay, though I find it hard to believe this was actually written.) I can’t say that nine years has sharpened Kentis’ filmmaking skills, and that it took nine years to come up with something this dull is pretty incredible.
The gimmick this time — at least ostensibly — is that Silent House is presented in real time and in one unbroken take. The directors have owned up to the fact that they cheated to obtain this effect — and the murky film certainly offered a lot of opportunity to do just that — but seem to think this is irrelevant. Well, I tend to agree (so far as the results are concerned), but mostly because the movie is such a crashing bore that I don’t much care how it was made. The audience I saw it with seemed to feel much the same way, since the usual jumping at shock effects wasn’t happening and people were on their feet as soon as the credits started rolling. In fact, one woman asked me, “Did you like it?” I said, no, and she seemed relieved, saying, “I thought maybe it was just me.” (I’m still curious about one critic who claimed to be so terror-striken by the movie that he covered his eyes during the last seven minutes.)
Here’s the idea — Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, looking unhinged and terrified much like the last time you saw her) and her dad (the appallingly amateurish Adam Trese) and uncle (the only slightly less amateurish Eric Sheffer Stevens) are fixing up the old family summer home in order to sell it. Uncle goes off somewhere. Sarah hears noises. Dad investigates. Dad doesn’t come back. She investigates and finally finds dad unconscious. She concludes that someone is in the house — and that someone obviously has ill-intent. She hides behind things and under things and looks scared a lot. That’s pretty much it — apart from uncle coming back, increasingly freaky doings, and, yes, a twist ending. It’s a really dumb twist ending, though I suspect the filmmakers think it’s deep and disturbing — and it might be in a psychology 101 classroom. Personally, I think anything — even an infestation of possessed prairie dogs — would have been less groan-worthy.
The concept that an old, dark house is scary is solid enough — though I can’t say I found the house in question sufficiently creepy — but this thing never gets much past that idea for its own sake. It’s essentially the same thing for about 70 minutes, and then it gets to its twist, which is, if anything, less enthralling (and manages to be both unbelievable and predictable). I give the movie’s photographer credit, because even with cheating on the unbroken take idea, it can’t have been easy to choreograph these still-lengthy takes. I am less amazed (than some seem to be) over the idea that the cast learning and performing the whole film in one unbroken session is some great feat of acting. (It’s done on stages across the world every night.) I’m also not ready to subscribe to the idea that Elizabeth Olsen is the new great actress — and not just one who delivers more than you’d expect from the little sister of the Olsen twins. When she makes a movie where she does more than stare blankly or freak-out, then we can talk. Overall, though, the film itself is a sleep-inducing bore. Rated R for disturbing violent content and terror.