Silent House is a remake of a Uruguayan movie that was filmed in one continuous take, and presented in real time.
The original was well received, and was Uruguay’s official entry to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. While nobody is expecting any awards for its quick remake, it’s definitely creepy and entertaining, and keeps you on the edge of your seat for long stretches.
The story is slim, Elizabeth Olson is locked in a scary house, scary things happen. She, her father, and her uncle are preparing to sell the place; furniture is stacked, the windows and most of the the doors are boarded up, leaving it dark and isolated, even in the middle of the day.
Silent House retains its originator’s gimmick and unfolds in real time over 85 minutes. After some unsettling build-up, Olsen’s father is attacked and rendered unconscious, leaving her with the goal of simply getting outside to find help.
Silent House is stylish and atmospheric. Unlike a lot of lesser horror, it doesn’t rely on loud noises to make you jump, but rather the continuous dread of the unknown. Much more effective than an attack is the possibility of one, while close camera angles cut off your view of the surroundings. Intruders walk past as Olsen hides, shaking, under a table, footsteps thump overhead while she searches for the key.
Olsen’s character isn’t immensely deep, but I didn’t find myself disagreeing with her choices. There were no contrived barriers tossed in to make her stay in the house and pad out the film, it was a genuine best effort to escape like a real life human being-type person.
While the protagonist’s goal may have been just escape, the audience have the additional goal of finding out what’s actually going on. This is left unknown for the vast majority of the running time. A few hints are thrown in (those are some suspicious Polaroids nobody’s letting you see), but as it homes in on its conclusion, I started to realise, oh, it looks like one of those endings. With exposition confined to the last few minutes, it gives the impression of, oh well, we had to end this one way or another, and while the traditional way of satisfying an audience is ending strongly, a solid middle of non-stop tension had won me over by then.
I’ve complained in previous reviews about a lack of story and characters in horror, and while Silent House is not strong in this regard, what little of it there was, was believable and engaging.
In the end, the most fundamental thing you can ask of a horror film is be scary, damn it, and this one delivers.