Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
Written by: Laura Lau, based on the film by Gustavo Hernández
Directed by: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content and terror
Running Time: 85
Date: 01/21/2011

Silent House (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Room Nervous

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Last time out, husband-and-wife co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau came up with Open Water, an inventive low-budget chiller set almost exclusively in one spot. Now they have done it again with Silent House, this time employing a fascinating structure made up of what looks like one single, unbroken shot (though in reality, it's probably at least three or four shots). The result is an entirely unique rhythm for a horror film. 

Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is helping her father John (Adam Trese) and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) clean out a rural family house to put it up for sale. Sarah's childhood friend Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) turns up for a visit, but oddly, Sarah can't remember her. Soon Sarah begins hearing scary noises. When her father goes to investigate, he disappears. She finds his body, knocked unconscious. Her uncle tries to help, but her father has disappeared, and now Sarah has begun seeing creepy figures in the shadows. All of the trouble leads back to some sinister events that once occurred in the house, but can Sarah figure it all out in time?

Without the reassurance of editing, the flow is much more nightmarish. This style also results in an exemplary, intense performance by Elizabeth Olsen (also great in Martha Marcy May Marlene). Her character runs the gamut from casual to confused, to scared, and outright terrified, without the comfort of building these emotions off-camera, between takes. She builds everything in view, on the fly. Unfortunately the story and themes range from muddled to obvious. The writing, at once all too familiar and too opaque, threatens to ruin the whole experience.

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