Like February’s superhero flick Chronicle, Silent House is another genre piece which uses a potentially gimmicky filming format (this time it’s the single, continuous take) to surprisingly good effect. It was the same method deployed in the original Uruguay version a couple of years back, and deemed efficient enough to use again, but despite the best efforts of lead Elizabeth Olsen, the film is unfortunately struck by that all too familiar case of the bad ending disease which has scuppered similar past projects and undoes much of the initial sterling work here.
Using a simple haunted house premise as the hook, the threadbare plot sees Sarah (Olsen) helping her dad and uncle shift belonging from an old family house. Things seem slightly off-centre and then she receives a knock on the door from a girl around her age who claims to be a cousin, although she has no memory of her.
As night draws in (the house is boarded up, so scant means of natural light is offered anyway) and her uncle leaves the premises, Sarah’s dad inexplicitly disappears and she begins to see ghostly apparition of a young girl, while a shadowy figure begins to stalk her around the myriad of rooms and passages. Is it all a figment of her imagination or are past indiscretions being dredged up somehow?
Before tripping up when the source of the spookiness is revealed towards the end, Silent House more than adequately delivers the requisite jumps and scares throughout its brief 85 minutes running time. The notion that you’re watched the action via a continuous take falls away pretty early on, and the camera work is imaginatively staged and well-choreographed (those eagle-eyed viewers will find it incredibly hard to spot where any of the cuts occur).
The claustrophobic, subjective nature of the shooting style, which stays tight on Olsen as she desperately tries to hide from view of her assailant, is really where the film derives its power from, cranking up the tension to sometimes unbearable levels. The audience is placed in the same vulnerable position as her character without the safety net of a cutaway or indeed the opportunity to leave the action in the house. There is no escape and it’s what really amps up the terror.
It’s the kind of film which requires a powerful central performance to hold everything together, and Olsen is more than up to the task, managing to hold the audiences attention while she is on screen for the whole duration of the film. It’s an incredibly challenging role in terms of maintaining an unbroken emotional continuity, and she performs admirably, further solidifying her reputation of one of US cinema’s bright young hopes.
It’s such a shame then that the daft denouement departs from the tense atmosphere which has come before and presents a muddled, stagey and ham-fisted reveal, drawing on clues which have been awkwardly dropped throughout the narrative, and retroactively cheapening what has gone before. Having put in all that good work and effort, it’s mystifying why Open Water co-directors Laura Lau and Chris Kentis would choose to end the film in this manner.
If you’re looking for a evening of old-fashioned scares effectively served up for a modern audience then you’ll enjoy what’s on offer here, but unlike Olsen’s character (who is seemingly unable to escape from her immediate surrounds), it may be advisable to leave the cinema a good ten minutes or so before the end.