From Chris Kentis and Laura Lau – the husband and wife creative force behind 2003’s taught aquatic horror Open Water – comes Silent House (2011), a US remake of Uruguayan director Gustavo Hernandez’s La Casa Muda (The Silent House, 2010). Starring rising star Elizabeth Olsen as the film’s tormented ‘damsel in distress’, this seemingly archetypal haunted house horror is unique for ostensibly being shot in a singular, continuous take – or so it would seem.
Sarah (Olsen) joins her father, John (Adam Trese) and uncle, Peter (Eric Sheffer) to renovate their former lakeside retreat. However, once Sarah finds herself alone in the house and begins hearing ominous noises it initially seems that this disregard for narrative structure in favour of atmosphere has been successful. After Sarah discovers her father’s unconscious body, the film finally begins to take flight, developing into a pulse-racing cat-and-mouse scenario which initially promise to excite and shock in equal measure – before a truly pathetic finale.
There’s no denying that Silent House is a technically accomplished film, almost pulling off its one-take gimmick. The camera becomes a wraith-like incarnation of Sarah’s heightened panic and trepidation, simultaneously representing the inescapable emotional baggage she’s unwittingly haunted by. Furthermore, despite the film’s perfunctory script, the phenomenal performance of Olsen more than covers for the stilted and wooden actions of her screen partners, with her innocent vulnerability and muted screams illustrating a soul utterly consumed by terror.
Yet whilst Silent House initially presents a familiar, enjoyable slice of contemporary horror, the film quickly comes crashing down under the weight of its own ridiculous plot twists. With little exposition towards the reasons behind the film’s preposterous finale, there’s little left other than a sense of disgust at the exploitative nature of the film’s narrative catalyst – using its sensitive subject matter to shock and horrify rather than attempt to make any social comment on the inhumanity of such actions.
Olsen’s presence and the film’s intriguing stylistic approach may seem tempting, however, Kentis and Lau’s Silent House is disgusting and offensive for all the wrong reasons. This noisy, crass and inarticulate remake dies a nefarious death thanks to its inability to both successfully convey its victim’s retribution through a plausible methodology and simultaneously using the perverse and odious nature of its principle theme for mere genre titillation.