The Hollywood remake machine rumbles on, harvesting and plucking over-ripe fruit from the indie orchard. Silent House is a remake of the Uruguayan thriller of the same name and sees Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, a young woman fixing up her dilapidated childhood holiday home with her dad and uncle.
But there’s a problem, the power’s out and the windows are boarded up, so the interior is permanently shrouded in gloom which necessitates the use of halogen lanterns just to get around. What’s more, Sarah keeps hearing things – ominous creaking and distant banging which convinces her that she’s not alone and she has no recollection of the friendly childhood friend that drops by to say hello – clearly something strange is afoot.
Silent House is built around one central conceit – that it all looks like it’s been filmed in one long continuous take. It’s a technique that Hitchcock used for Rope where it served to heighten the claustrophobia and trepidation to an unbearable level. Not only is that a less impressive feat here (digital film has rendered the cumbersome cameras of yore something of a relic) but it’s actually detrimental to the scare factor.
The principle seems sound – the camera sticks close to Sarah at all times, the idea being that her terror becomes our terror. She doesn’t get a break, so why should we? But there’s a complete inability to build any sort of tension. Olsen runs up the stairs, then down the stairs, then outside, then back inside and seems to spend most of the time cowering under a series of tables – her near complete breakdown seems to happen in the space of far too short a time. With no palpable threat, her antics quickly become boring – the absolute killing blow to any horror movie.
Elizabeth Olsen certainly deserves praise as Sarah. Just like her breakthrough role in Martha Marcy May Marlene earlier this year, she excels at playing a panicky character on the verge of hysteria – big round, doe-in-headlights eyes; her face contorted into a mask of fearful whimpering. The fact that she manages to keep up that level of crippling dread without once seeming hammy or oversold is extremely impressive.
But while she’s excellent, she shines like a diamond in a coal scuttle. The first half is watchable enough – there’s enough intrigue to convince you to want see where it’s going – but somewhere in the second half, it becomes acutely apparent that there’s going to be no attempt at realism here – that every crack and moan is simply designed to provoke a cheap reaction. Dull gives way to ridiculous in the film’s final act – a needlessly expository explanation which feels unconvincing and contrived. It’s a disappointing film and Elizabeth Olsen, a talented actress, is wasted here.