A gimmicky horror film from Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water), Silent House keeps you engaged until that timeless genre staple, the moronic plot twist, takes the movie to a weird, sinister places and saps the fun out of it. Of course, that makes it hard to review the picture, which depends so heavily on that third act reveal. The first hour-plus is pretty gripping, a real-time single-take (undoubtedly including disguised cuts) depiction of a young woman named Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) being tormented by mysterious stalkers inside a lakeside home she and her father (Adam Trese) are restoring.
It’s a creepy place, with the windows boarded up, the doors locked and the power shut off. Cell phones don’t work and there are no neighbors. The filmmakers, remaking a 2010 Uruguayan movie, play up the closed-off quality by setting the action during the late afternoon, with the sun first setting outdoors. The slivers of light that occasionally peak in, suggesting that helps lies just outside the front door, make the home an ideal setting for a suffocating living nightmare.
Olsen does a remarkable job of seeming genuinely, unabashedly freaked out amid a symphony of loud banging noises and sinister apparitions. It’s the sort of immersive full-throttle performance that only a real actor could give, grounding this sensational experience in tangible, real world terror. The intimate documentary-style camerawork gets in close, showing us every shade of terror on Sarah’s face, hiding with her under tables and sharing in the sheer panic. The experience is disorienting and gripping, marked by slow reveals. You have no idea what’s coming next.
Sadly the filmmakers couldn’t leave well enough alone, and let things play out in an interesting, natural way. [Mild spoiler alert] Instead, they offer a twist that transforms what was a fun genre exercise into an uncomfortably realistic, morally bankrupt enterprise. The ending unconvincingly reconstitutes everything that’s come before it, fundamentally changes our perception of Sarah, and gives the film a psychological bent that’s hackneyed at best and downright offensive, even vaguely sexist, at worst.
Few storytelling feats are more difficult than crafting a conclusion that wields an impact while being thematically consistent with what’s come before it. That’s especially true in creating movies like Silent House, which depend so heavily on the grand reveal to clarify things. Strong craft, suspenseful set-ups and quality high concepts are never enough. Sadly, Kentis and Lau screw up the ending so monumentally here that all the good will they’ve built up is squandered, and the Silent House experience amounts to nothing.
The Upside: Most of Silent House is gripping and suspenseful.
The Downside: The ending ruins the movie.
On the Side: This Elizabeth Olsen performance is no less impressive than her work on Martha Marcy May Marlene, but the filmmakers let her down.