Silent House (2011) review

Silent House posterDirectors: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, Haley Murphy

“Daddy?” (Sarah, about a hundred times, Silent House)

Here’s a fun fact: there are actually more movies about haunted houses than there are houses in North America.

Okay, that isn’t true. But it’s getting to the stage that I wouldn’t be surprised.

Silent House at least tries to do something different by introducing a rarely used gimmick: the entire film is presented as one single shot.

Granted, it does cheat a little bit – more on that later – but the concept is at least enough to keep your interest for a while.

Impressively, it even starts with a crane shot and seamlessly switches to handheld
Impressively, it even starts with a crane shot and seamlessly switches to handheld

The movie follows Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, otherwise known as the Olsen who isn’t a twin) as she returns to her old childhood home with her dad and his brother.

The house is basically on its arse: the lights don’t work, the windows are boarded up, the walls are covered with mould and, in true horror film fashion, there’s no cellphone signal in the area.

Still, that doesn’t matter to Sarah’s dad, because they aren’t there to move back in: they’re there to renovate the place and gather up any old possessions they have still lying around before the house is sold to potential fixer-upper types.

"I wonder if the puppy I left in my cupboard when I was eight is still alive"
“I wonder if the puppy I left in my cupboard when I was eight is still alive” “U fukin wot m8”

After Sarah’s uncle heads off to find an electrician, she pops upstairs to clear up her old room while her dad stays downstairs. Suddenly she hears a loud noise. Silent House, you say? Trade Descriptions Act 1968, I say.

Heading back downstairs to investigate, Sarah quickly realises that her dad is nowhere to be found, and she can’t get out of the house because he has the keys. Shit’s about to get real claustrophobic, dawg.

As Sarah anxiously tries to find a way out of the house, she soon becomes aware that there are other presences in the house, including what seems to be the ghost of a little girl, and a large man (listed in the credits simply as Stalking Man) slowly walking around.

She makes her way back upstairs and locks herself in a room, only to discover she’s sharing it with the unconscious body of her dad, sporting a massive head wound. Oh sheeeeeeit.

"Excuse me sir, I can't help but noticed you've had an injury at the workplace. I'm with Claims Direct, let me leave you a leaflet"
“Excuse me sir, I can’t help but notice you’ve had an injury at the workplace. I’m with Claims Direct, let me leave you a leaflet”

Can Sarah get out of the house alive, or will the mysterious forces inhabiting it find her and give her a sound kicking? Are they even mysterious forces, or just really creepy squatters? Or are they… actually, never mind. Let’s not ruin it.

I love the way Silent House is shot. Its ‘single take’ approach means everything happens in real-time and you’re with Sarah the entire time as her terror builds and, eventually, her defence instincts kick in.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that despite giving the appearance the entire film consists of one shot, and despite the poster claiming you’ll “experience 88 minutes of real fear captured in real time”, that actually isn’t the case.

Instead, Silent House was filmed in 10-minute chunks, expertly joined together with sneaky cuts. Eagle-eyed film buffs will spot one of them fairly easily (at the halfway point, when Sarah briefly gets out of the house), but the rest are well hidden.

Unlike her cleavage for most of the film, as is horror law apparently
Unlike her cleavage for most of the film, as is horror law apparently

This revelation may make Silent House feel like less of a technical accomplishment, then, but it doesn’t detract from the film’s claustrophobic tone anyway.

The handheld camera used throughout sticks really close to Olsen, meaning as she enters each room and struggles to see in the darkness, you too are struggling along with her, trying to scope out her surroundings for potential dangers.

It’s not entirely original, though. Well, it’s not original at all – it’s a remake of a Uruguayan horror film called La Casa Muda (The Silent House) – but other than that, I mean.

It does borrow some set-pieces and tropes from other films, though to be fair it usually borrows the good ones.

Like having blood in it. How unoriginal, boooooooo
Like having blood in it. How unoriginal, boooooooo

The classic ‘in a dark room and using a camera’s flash to light it up every few seconds’ set-piece is used well here, with the inevitable brief glimpse of a figure suitably eerie.

Massive props an’ ting must also go to Elizabeth Olsen, who puts in a magnificent performance.

It may not be the single 88-minute shot we’re led to believe it is but that doesn’t take anything away from Olsen, whose face is brilliantly expressive throughout.

Not the best example, to be honest
Not the best example, to be honest

Sadly though, it all starts to fall apart towards the end, with a twist ending that turns everything on its head and ends the film on a much darker note than it maybe needed to.

Without going into too much detail, it’s an ending I’ve seen recently in a number of horror films involving distressed young woman, and is starting to feel like an easy way to get a reaction from the audience.

It’s still worth seeing Silent House because the first hour is an effective example of minimalist filmmaking, in which very little happens but you’re gripped anyway. Just be prepared for a dumb twist that will ruin things a little.


Silent House is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, and DVD and Blu-ray in the US. Both regions feature a commentary by the directors in which they reveal where the cuts were made between the 10-minute segments.


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