This is good news for two reasons. One is that it’s under ninety minutes (always a good thing), the other is that its supposed feat should make for an interesting experience.
In most respects, Silent House is a standard scarer. Pretty young woman is all alone in the woods, isolated, and something is trying to kill her. In this film, that pretty young woman is played by Elizabeth Olson, still hot off last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. Compared with most other young actresses that get cast for this kind of role, she’s playing a master-class on getting scared. Olsen embraces twisting her face to supress screaming, and isn’t afraid embarrass herself as she attempts to survive in an inescapable haunted house.
Is it a gimick? Sure it is, but as The Artist proved last year, gimick movies don’t have to rest their laurels on just being a gimick. Similarly, Silent House builds upon its focus – shooting a film with one take – to form an effective film around it.
The gimick doesn’t just set Silent House aside from its genre brethren, it defines it and proves the film’s greatest asset. Seeing the events of the film unfold in real time brings an inescapability that most films can’t provide. By cutting out cuts and edits, the filmmaking removes a shroud that often separates the audience from fully experiencing the story. You’re right there next to Olsen’s character, almost as if you’re following her.
Perfect for this experience is the film’s unwillingness to fill you in on what’s going on. Sure, most movies learned the Jaws lesson – that it’s scarier to refrain from showing the monster until the end; but with Silent House, to extend the example, you’re not even sure if it’s a shark in the water. Until the final ten or fifteen minutes, you can hardly tell if the big bad presence is paranormal or not.
But in this respect, Silent House falls apart at the end. Everything is mostly spelled out in the final scene, which may satisfy on a story-level, but feels like a cop-out after such a tense hour of following someone around an almost completely dark house. That’s only worsened by the supreme boringness of the surprise ending, pulling out a conventionally “You’ll never see it coming” play that you’ve seen too many times to be interesting or even believable.
Silent House may work better as an exercise than a complete film. It experiments with form, and while doing so finds mostly success. But it ends trying too hard to be a conventional film that it has no interest in being.