Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s Silent House back from the dead.
Silent House (2011)
Directors: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
IMDb rating: 5.2
Metacritic rating: 49
Silent House unearths some genuine feelings of familiarity that many Hollywood remakes tend to do by rarely ever conveying anything fresh to their already potent predecessors. So it is without surprise that, upon release, Silent House was met with nothing but disappointment. The horror genre at present does not possess the most admired of reputations – generally, the elements currently used in the genre are dull and clichéd and, more importantly, no one knows how to end the things anymore. The unbearably annoying shrieking teenagers, the derelict haunted houses and the regurgitation of the same, incessant narratives that Hollywood just cannot bring to an end is enough to make anyone despise the horror genre.
Silent House showcases lead actress Elizabeth Olsen, here in the exciting early stages of what is bound to be a major career
Directed by the team responsible for the atmospheric Open Water, Silent House is a shot for shot remake of the Uruguayan film of the same name. So unlike most other recreations of foreign cinema, where the directors at least attempt to alter the plot or the cinematography to somehow make the film dissimilar to its forerunner, Silent House does exactly what the original did – only in English. But despite some obvious flaws, Silent House showcases lead actress Elizabeth Olsen – here in the exciting early stages of what is bound to be a major career – and her talent, bolstering the development of her career in the industry.
This cinematic endeavour places Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, a nervous and subdued girl who, with her dominating father and dubious uncle, returns to her childhood home to attempt renovation. It is upon meeting a bizarre childhood friend that things for Sarah begin to go awry – she realises that she bears hardly any memories of her childhood lived at this timeworn abode. Terror then ensues when Sarah’s home is invaded by an unseen, malevolent stranger intent on harming her and her father.
Subtlety is something both the original and the remake of Silent House seem to distinctly lack – halfway through, the film just goes completely off the rails, with shocking results. Initially the story seems to be about a girl trapped in a potentially haunted house, then, as the film continues, the audience is treated to a dose of an isolated, confused girl attempting to confront her innermost suppressed fears. As Sarah’s sanity begins to dwindle, it becomes evident that the malevolent ‘stranger’ is just Sarah’s repressed childhood attempting to surface. Silent House addresses some very grave issues. Sarah’s physical and mental abuse at the hands of her father materialises when Sarah finally allows the memories and the anguish to pierce her conscious mind.
The entire film is shot in what appears to be a single take, so we are constantly confronted by Sarah’s slow descent into despair
The subject of sexual abuse is never easy to swallow, especially when it concerns children. A sexual relationship between an adult and a child is considered repugnant and inexcusable so it is without wonder that the events that occur in Silent House can be seen as offensive. What makes it just that bit more disturbing is the fact that the entire film is shot in one long continuous take (or what appears to be one – it’s actually a series of long takes seamlessly edited together, a la Hitchcock’s Rope), so we as the audience are constantly confronted by Sarah’s slow descent into despair.
Silent House in its entirety is a long way away from being a masterpiece, but any director deserves admiration for the ambitious camerawork. Elizabeth Olsen is also clearly in her comfort zone playing the distressed teenager. The subject matter in Silent House is indeed horrendous, but however grave it may be, being confronted by it is sometimes necessary. Silent House may not execute it in the most delicate way, but it is a film to be remembered for its boldness and unusual style.
All images: Open Road Films/Universal