By Linc Leifeste | March 9, 2012
Directors: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Writers: Gustavo Hernández (based on the film by), Laura Lau (screenplay)
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross
Single-take films are a rarity, probably both because of the obvious challenges involved in making them and because there aren’t many stories that work well in that format. The most famous single-take film is probably Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 classic Rope. Based on the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda, also a single-take film, Silent House looks every bit the part of an uninterrupted 88 minute shot although I sense that it’s not (and I’ve read that the final 15 minutes were re-filmed after the film’s Sundance premiere). I’m sure there are several splices and cuts hidden in there but directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau masterfully manage to keep them well disguised.
If you’ve seen the trailer or heard about Silent House, you probably have some sense of what the movie is about. Sarah Murphy (Elizabeth Olsen) and her dad John (Adam Trese) are apparently involved in some kind of violent home invasion. Additionally, you might know that as well as being presented as one continuous shot, the film supposedly chronicles the 88 minute”true event” in real time as it played out from start to finish. Oh, and you’re probably aware that the film looks scary as hell. But as you might suspect, the story’s not quite as simple as all of that. There’s a twist involved, albeit one that is telegraphed way too early in the film, and knowing about it beforehand would rob some of the joy of watching the film. Therefore, reviewers’ hands are somewhat tied in discussing this film but I’ll give it my best shot.
John has brought Sarah along to help him fix up her isolated rural childhood home so he can sell it. Sarah’s uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) is also there to assist in the clean-up. There have been vagrants breaking in and squatting so the windows have all been boarded up, there’s no electricity and the place is a wreck. While these three basically comprise the tiny cast, there’s also the somewhat creepy Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) who suddenly shows up on her bicycle claiming to be Sarah’s childhood friend, although Sarah has no recollection of her. It’s not long before things get strange in the house. There are odd scary sounds that merit further investigation. Soon John and her father are in different rooms and then he’s disappeared. Are there intruders? Supernatural events? Is it all part of Sarah’s overactive imagination? The first half of the film keeps you guessing, effectively building palpable tension with each passing moment.
But while the filmmakers display enviable technical skills they prove less adept at managing to carry through on the promise of the first half of the movie. It becomes all too clear too early in the film that the possible explanations for what’s going on in the house are severely limited, dramatically changing your perception of what you’re seeing and robbing the film of much of it’s initial power. Where the film does not disappoint from start to finish is in the powerhouse performance of Elizabeth Olsen. Combine this with her brilliant recent turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene and I get the sense that she is an actress worthy of our full attention.