Saturday, March 10, 2012

In Theaters: SILENT HOUSE (2012)

(US/France - 2012)

Directed by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau.  Written by Laura Lau.  Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross. (R, 85 mins)

Husband & wife directing team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau are no stranger to gimmicky thrills and chills:  Kentis directed and Lau photographed the 2004 actors-in-the-water-with-real-sharks indie hit OPEN WATER.  Both have been off the radar until resurfacing with this remake of Gustavo Hernandez's 2010 Uruguayan thriller LA CASA MUDA.  CASA's gimmick, replicated by SILENT HOUSE, is that it's allegedly shot in real time, in one continuous take.  I haven't seen the Hernandez film so I can't judge, but I'm not buying that claim with Kentis & Lau's film.  Oh, it's a solidly-constructed illusion of a continuous take, but there's plenty of dark shots and other pieces of set decor that can easily obscure a seamless edit.  Plus, if you stick around for the closing credits, the long list of "Additional photography" credits sorta blow the "one continuous take" claim to hell.  There's a few instances where it's used effectively, but the illusion doesn't really add much to the film, which wouldn't have been very different if the cuts were visibly apparent.

The simple set-up has early 20-ish Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) cleaning out a dilapidated, mold-infested family vacation home with her dad John (Adam Trese), and her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens).  Located far off the beaten path, the house has become a haven for squatters, so Peter resorted to having the windows boarded up from the inside, which doesn't allow for any light to get into the house.  This becomes an issue when Peter runs to town for supplies, John goes upstairs and disappears, and Sarah starts hearing thuds, bangs, heavy footsteps, and finally finds herself practically face-to-face with an intruder who's hiding in the house.

(Possible SPOILERS from here on)

That sounds like a can't-miss deal, but--and again, I'm only judging the remake, but I'm aware of some changes from the Uruguayan original--Kentis & Lau find ways.  Obviously, because it's a modern horror film, we know there will be a big plot twist by the end.  Kentis & Lau bungle this by telegraphing the twists and turns entirely too early in the story.  Before the mayhem starts, Sarah is visited by Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross), who's happy to see her since, she claims, they were playmates as kids.  Sarah initially doesn't remember her, but after Sophia mentions stopping by later with some pictures of them playing dress-up, Sarah starts to have a vague recollection.  There's another early bit where Uncle Peter stops to regard Sarah in a way that lingers longer than seems normal, and he finally says "I can't believe how grown-up you are."  And both John and Peter encounter scattered Polaroids that make them nervously skittish as they stash them down their pants.  Now sure, some of us see more movies than others, but without even seeing LA CASA MUDA and deliberately avoiding spoilers, I figured the whole thing out 20 minutes in, and anyone paying any attention to this at all can see where it's going even if you haven't seen the relatively recent HIGH TENSION or, to cite another cribbed source, Roman Polanski's REPULSION, a film that unravelled in a much similar fashion and still seems fresher than this despite being 47 years old and minus the central gimmick.  I'm curious to see Hernandez's original film, just to see if it showed its cards that early or if Kentis & Lau, who I'm guessing are terrible poker players, dumbed it down for American audiences.

That's not to say it's a total washout.  The scene with Sarah using the flash of an instant camera as a light source is a high point, and belongs in a better movie. Olsen is very good and maintains a believable near-hysteria throughout without ever going overboard.  The younger sister of Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen, she was pegged a star-in-the-making after last year's indie breakthrough MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, and she does a solid job here.  But there's only so much she can do with a script that simply gives away too much too soon, hoping that the "Real Fear...in Real Time!" conceit will carry it through to the end.  It doesn't.  Olsen's clearly going on to bigger and better things, and one day, SILENT HOUSE will likely be little more than the forgettable B-horror flick that so many accomplished actors have near or at the bottom of the IMDb pages.

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