There's Hitchcock's Rope, a classic example of the so-called "continuous take" film, and then there's Russian Ark, a more experimental twist on the trend. Somewhere in between this cinematic stunt stuff is Silent House, which follows, in only one take and no cuts, a young woman trapped in a haunted house.
Based on the recent Uruguayan horror film of the same name (La Casa Muda) and using many of the same plot points, Silent House introduces us to our soon to be harried heroine, a 20-something who's returned with her father their old family vacation home (in the woods and by a lake, natch) to pack it up, board it up, and say farewell to it before it goes on the market. But it's going to take a lot of work — squatters have defaced it; rust has wrecked the plumbing; and mildew's worked its way into the electrical system. The house is much like Sarah… she's barely hiding lots of peeling paint, weak foundations, and broken windows to the soul.
But why? We will find out, but first it is time to get scared! Dad and Sarah are soon joined by Uncle Peter who's come to help with the tidying, a neighbor Sarah really doesn't remember from childhood summers pops by, and a creepy little girl lurks just out of sight in convenient shadows. The players are in place, and the suspense begins. It's just little things at first; a noise here, a falling piece of plastic sheeting there. And then Sarah's dad is attacked, his eye bloodily gouged from his skull. Sarah tries to run — and she does escape the dwelling of doom, but she's lured back inside by clever, insidious means. To reveal much more would be spoilery, but I will say that Silent House is the kind of movie you must suspend all disbelief for (OK, maybe some of the embarrassingly foreshadowing dialogue is diss-worthy) in order to enjoy. Just watch the girl, follow her, and get caught up in her terror. It works on a visceral level, similar to the French film of a few years back, Ils.
The cinematography is rough, grainy and dark, yet cinematic — I liked it. The score is understated as well, but adds to the tension as it should. The acting by all is up to par (especially considering the circumstance of the "one-take" conceit… which, we all know isn't exactly as it seems, but it's fun to pretend it is, and surely there are many very long-running moments). The real standout, and undeniably watchable one, is Olsen. Her critics' kudos (in this, and also Martha Marcy May Marlene) are well-deserved. She has a brittle beauty and a strong, smart vulnerability. You like her, even when she is not at all likable.
While Silent House is not a traditional haunted home horror film, it is one of the more unusual and well-made ones out there now. I'm not gonna lie: the "twist" sucks like a Lifetime TV movie, but I think there is enough initial mystery and well-placed gotcha moments to make up for that.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson