Silent House

There’s something impressive about long continuous shots in film. They’re usually not something I catch the first time through a film (at least, not if it’s any good), but they can further enhance my appreciation on subsequent passes. My love for the iconic hallway scene in Oldboy somehow found new heights to reach when I realized it was a single shot. And I managed to find new ways to love Hitchcock’s Rope when I learned that it was composed as a sequence of ten-minute shots (the amount of film that could be loaded into a camera in those days). But the first several mentions of Silent House dealt only with its being filmed in one continuous sequence, and that created something of a distraction for me because it made me watch the film more intently for possible edit points (and there are several), which prevented me from becoming as engrossed in the story.

Elizabeth Olsen and her cleavage star as Sarah, a college dropout helping her dad (John, played by Adam Trese) and uncle (Peter, played by Eric Sheffer Stevens) renovate an old house that’s been in the family for years. They’re fixing it up so they can sell it, so there are a lot of objects covered with dust cloths and construction tools lying around, and the electricity and telephone service has been disconnected. They have to light it with candles and batteries, and it’s remote enough that cell phone coverage is nonexistent, and all this makes for a pretty spooky place. It’s also not very fun when John and Peter get into an argument and Peter drives off into town for some time away.

Shortly after Peter leaves, Sarah starts to hear noises upstairs, but her father is working on the ground floor. At first, he dismisses it the normal cracking and creaking of an old house, or maybe rats, but she persists in her claims and they go to investigate. Their cursory look through the upstairs finds nothing, but the noises persist and she becomes even more convinced there’s someone else in the house. But when she finds her dad lying unconscious on the floor with a bloody face, there’s no more room for doubt.

I’m not entirely sure why the film is called Silent House, since hearing noises where there aren’t supposed to be any people is part of what’s supposed to make it scary. I have to confess that I didn’t find any parts of the film particularly scary, but that’s at least in part because I was more focused than usual on trying to identify potential cuts and less engrossed in the story. However, given that the film doesn’t really show us anything new, I’m not sure that any hardened horror fan would find much of the film even remotely frightening. The ending is something that we’ve seen before, and the movie ultimately paints itself into a corner where there isn’t much room for alternatives, so it’s something that you’ll probably see coming in advance, but they do at least try to throw in some red herrings along the way.

In addition to distracting my focus from the action, the attempt to present the film as a single continuous shot is harmful because it results in action which is occasionally jarring (because whoever is carrying the camera is bouncing quite a bit, making for a very unstable image), and there were several occasions in which it was at least briefly out of focus. Further, there were a couple of cases in which the camera follows Sarah into a relatively small space, and there is some unnatural movement required (both from Sarah and from the perspective of the camera) in order to get out of that space without the need to cut.

It seems that Silent House is yet another casualty of the gimmick that gets in the way. Like found footage and 3D and CGI and similar audiovisual elements, if the gimmick is intended to make up for a weak story or interferes with the way that story is experienced, then the gimmick needs to go.