Silent House (2012)

28 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

For about the first forty-five minutes, the thriller “Silent House” delivers what you expect to find in a thriller—a sense of creepy atmosphere, a legitimate fear aspect, some good scares and unnerving moments, a main character to root for, and a large amount of tension. “Silent House” has all of that and it makes for one of the best, most intense horror movies I’ve seen recently. Unfortunately, that’s only the first half of “Silent House” which means there’s a second half to the movie that will undermine what it had going and end on a scene that is not only anticlimactic, but also very disappointing and unbelievably stupid. And it brings the movie down with it.

It’s a shame too, especially considering the talent in front of and behind the camera. First, let’s start with the technical style. “Silent House” has been shot using long takes that can create what appears to be one unbroken shot, thanks to some clever editing. This is undoubtedly a callback to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” which used the same technique. And thanks to today’s technology, we have an upgrade—in fact, the film’s opening shot (or rather, start of the shot that consists of the whole movie, practically) is spectacular, as it starts from high above our protagonist and then eases its way down to join her as she walks and continues to follow her from there.

This inventive technique is handled effectively because we are with our protagonist the entire time. No time-lapses or motioning over to something less important—our attention is focused on who it should be focused upon: our female protagonist. Her fear becomes our fear. However, this style does manage to wear out its welcome once we realize we’re in the middle of a project with a shaky handheld camera. Very shaky indeed.

The setting is an old country house in the middle of nowhere where most of the action takes place, thus giving us the hint of claustrophobia. There’s no cell phone service, no electricity, and most of the windows and doors are padlocked. (Don’t say nobody tries to escape from the house when things go wrong.) A young woman named Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, showing extraordinary work here), her father (Adam Trese), and her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) hope to sell it sometime soon. But later that day, Sarah and her father are alone in the house and when Dad investigates a strange noise coming from upstairs, Sarah hears a loud thud and calls for him, with no answer. Soon, she realizes that there is someone in the house and that “someone” has Sarah’s father, is looking for her, and there is hardly a way for her to escape.

This is the part of the movie that is very frightening. We follow Sarah to many hiding spots throughout the dark house and we know just as much as she does that someone is following her and will find her if she doesn’t keep moving. It’s so tense and unnerving that you need to chuckle a little bit to relieve the tension. This whole first half is borderline “Halloween” territory. I mean it—it’s that good.

As underwhelming as the second half is, I have to give it credit for one utterly fearsome sequence that comes later in the film. It’s when Sarah is surrounded by complete darkness and has to use her Polaroid camera to create a little flash of light so she can see where she is. We know that once in those flashes of light, we’re going to see something shocking and we don’t want to see it. That was a disturbing scene that worked.

“Silent House” would have been great, if not for the disappointing ending. It’s supposed to shock us with something we haven’t picked up on before, but the result is clumsily handled and very weak. If you’re willing to accept it for what it is, and if you’re a hardcore horror fan, “Silent House” will probably please you. It didn’t do much for me, except for the first half. After that, you’re on your own.

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