17 May 2012

Silent House

Directed by: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Written by: Laura Lau
Full credits at IMDb

Silent House has a silly payoff, but for most of its 85-minute run time, it's as tense as piano wire. Presented deceptively as a single take, it's actually a series of takes edited "invisibly," with the cuts craftily hidden, a la Rope. But whether it's genuine or not has little bearing on its effect: the confining seeming lack of edits is, duh, thrilling. Set almost entirely in a boarded up house—and often lit by the actors—it gets its scares the old-fashioned way, with creaks, bumps, and creeping around in the dark. You feel like a character in the film, slowly poking through this empty house, gripped with anxiety.

But really it's Elizabeth Olsen who's doing the poking; trapped in this house with what we believe to be a psychokiller—the film plays on a familiar structure of nightmares, the inability to escape; even when Olsen escapes the house, she's brought right back—she's terrorized almost exclusively by sounds, shadows and blurs—by the elements of cinema itself. The camera swings so fast you can't ever really see what makes Olsen jump; it's the jumping itself that's so unnerving. Silent House makes you afraid of fear, makes you react to reactions.

Olsen is a great anchor, commanding what's essentially an 85-minute close-up. She's best when she's hiding out, trembling under a table, shrieking without making a sound. With such mastery of form and performance, it's unfortunate that the movie gives in to some late-act twists, adding a psychological complexity the movie doesn't need. (The lake house has a mold infection—it's a metaphor for the unseen, underlying rot in the foundations of her family!) Without such High Tension-esque inanity, the movie is a terrific formal exercise, a terrifying dissolution into subjective nightmare. Grade: B

Watch the trailer:

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