"Silent House" twists camera and narrative alike, but repulses more than it scares.
Though it’s based on the like-titled Uruguayan film “La Casa Muda,” “Silent House” seems oddly named for a thriller whose titular abode boasts the creaky floorboards of an old, dark genre. Taking place in real time via one apparently unbroken shot, this technically impressive, ultimately sleazy indie puts its heavy-breathing and buxom young heroine (Elizabeth Olsen) through the ringer for 87 minutes and leaves a sour aftertaste even by the brutalizing standards of modern horror. Another stylistic exercise from “Open Water” directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, “Silent House” twists camera and narrative alike, but repulses more than it scares.
Impeccably choreographed, if too often to ogle Olsen’s ample cleavage, the action opens on high, above a craggy lakeshore, as d.p. Igor Martinovic’s HD camera glides down to settle on Sarah (Olsen), a college-age beauty working with her dad John (Adam Trese) and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) to ready the family’s dilapidated cabin for sale. That Sarah’s elders look nearly young enough to be her boyfriends gives the pic a queasy feel from the start, as does the fact that the woman gets visibly disconcerted whenever someone — including pushy childhood playmate Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) — brings up the distant past.
Shuttered from the inside, the large, dust-covered house emits all manner of weird noises, and with indoor lighting limited to that from battery-powered lanterns, false scares abound. Sarah, implausibly clad for housework in a miniskirt, white camisole, and wide-open cardigan, gets jittery by degrees, as a door slams shut, Dad momentarily disappears, and a bottle appears out of nowhere to roll along a crooked floor.
What happens next can’t be described without spoiling the pic’s surprises, such as they are. Suffice it to say that Sarah’s camisole turns crimson in a couple of places, the house is visited by two other creepy figures, and the ending throws all that has preceded it into a new and rather ugly light. Kentis and Lau get mildly Hitchcockian with popping flashbulbs out of “Rear Window” and at least one “Rope”-style trick to disguise an edit, but “Silent House” mainly leans on its Uruguayan predecessor, give or take the final minutes of “REC” and “The Blair Witch Project.”
Pulling off the thespian equivalent of running a marathon, the hyperventilating Olsen works awfully hard in the service of a film that, in the end, does little or nothing to preserve her character’s integrity. And as Trese and Stevens utterly fail to convince as father and uncle, respectively, the pic’s true star is Martinovic’s unblinking camera, which really ought to have been let loose in some other house.