Silent House (2011), starring the talented Elizabeth Olsen, is yet another English-language remake of a recent foreign film. In this case, Chris Kentis of Open Water fame and producer Laura Lau tackle a spooky low-budget effort from Uruguay featuring a very clever gimmick. La Casa Muda (2010), in the tradition of Hitchcock’s Rope, is reportedly the first horror film shot in a single take. Not unlike the found-footage approach, this means exploring a creepy house, hiding in the dark, and unraveling a disturbing mystery for nearly 90 minutes in real-time.
As we begin, the young female protagonist is assisting her father with the daunting task of fixing up an old family home. Soon after settling into the deteriorating house, she is alarmed by mysterious noises coming from within the building. Her father leaves to investigate and sooth her fears, but he doesn’t return. She grabs a lantern and away we go. Although the slow pace of the original isn’t for everyone, it’s fascinating from a technical perspective alone. How did they line up that shot so perfectly? Were the actors and FX professionals hiding around every corner like a haunted attraction? How did the cameraman squeeze into that space? My main concern going into the screening for Silent House was whether we would see an interesting spin on the original material or a shallow copy existing for no reason other than lazy Americans refusing to read.
In many ways, it is the same film with an American flavor, but it does an admirable job with filling in some plot holes and establishing plausibility that the original’s setup was sorely lacking. Olsen, appearing before her well-received role in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is excellent. Since we must spend the majority of the film’s screen-time looking into and through her eyes, her ability to carry the film and sell the raw emotions experienced by her character is appreciated. Like the original, spending every minute of the film with the heroine builds tension as you discover each strange new piece of the puzzle together. The filmmakers admit to using several cuts, but the ambitious camera work documenting her journey is edited together smoothly and effectively.
As we reach the climax, the remake injects some new life into the story with some hallucinogenic nightmare imagery. I enjoyed these moments as a horror fan, but the heavier hand ultimately leads to a frustrating reveal. The conclusions of the two films play out in essentially the same way (and both are quite polarizing), but unfortunately… predictably… the American version handles the big conclusion with a laughably blunt-force good and evil approach and the original’s uncomfortable nuances of morality are lost. Whether you’re experiencing the film on its own or in comparison, it’s a disappointing turn.
Overall, it’s a solid but completely unnecessary interpretation. Those annoyed with the found-footage trend will likely find similar issues here with pacing, plot, and credibility, but patient fans of films about spooky dark houses should have a good time.
Silent House opens today in Philly-area theaters.