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March 10, 2012

Silent House

(2012, Dir. by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau.)

Nothing makes me hate human society more than when everyone freaks the heck out about the ending of an otherwise fine horror movie.  I guess there are a lot of people out there who think the ending is the most important part, or one of the most important parts, of a movie.  I do not subscribe to their reasoning.  An ending is just there, man.  It's not the whole movie.

Don't get me wrong.  There are times when a bad ending can ruin a movie completely.  If Casablanca ended with Captain America flying into Morocco, shield-boomeranging all the Nazis and throwing Rick and Ilsa into a seedy motel where they do some S&M, it probably wouldn't have won Oscars and lived on for 70 some years as an all-time classic.  But people are so quick to dismiss a movie - particularly a horror movie - when the ending comes out of left field like a bus taking down to lovey-dovey pedestrians.  And them people drive me crazy.

As you might have guessed by now, Silent House is a movie with a "twist" ending.  And the fact that I've wasted the last two plus paragraphs warning everyone who's a lame-o "I hope the ponies save the day in the end!" filmgoer to go somewhere else and leave us horror fans alone pains me.  Because, when you stop talking about the ending - which really isn't as crazy surprising as you might think, though it's certainly poorly handled - Silent House is a pretty fantastic chiller.

The advertisements for the film won't admit it - instead using a bogus "INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS" pitch that's a bold-faced lie - but this is a remake of a 2010 film from Uruguay, which did the same premise and plot very similarly.  A father and daughter go to a quiet - some would say silent - house in the middle of nowhere to clean the place up, and the daughter ends up (emotionally and physically) powerless to an assailant in a locked house with no (electrical) power.  The trick that brought interest to the first film, which is also parroted here, is that the film is presented in "real time" with one continuous shot following the characters through the house as bad things begin to happen.

Normally an almost shot-for-shot remake of a less than two year old film would be something I'd avoid, but Silent House drew me in with the casting of young Elizabeth Olsen in the lead.  Olsen, who's probably tired of being referred to as Mary-Kate and Ashley's younger sister,  set the indie cinema world on fire last year with her performance as a young woman recovering from her past in a vicious cult in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which - to be 100% perfectly honest - was a performance that should have earned Olsen no less than an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. 

The young Ms. Olsen carried that film with an incredibly natural ease (Perhaps she learned a lot about drama from watching her less-than-stable sisters?), and the shift from that role to becoming a terrorized victim in Silent House plays to her strengths wonderfully.  She's one of those actresses who really buys into the emotion of her roles physically, using tears, hyperventilation, and tremors as some of her tools to keep the audience riveted.  A lot of actors and actresses care about how they look on screen - For example, I doubt you could get an extreme close-up shot of Miley Cyrus keeled over and screaming like Olsen is on the Silent Hill posters - and it's clear from the early moments of both of her recent films that Olsen will do whatever it takes to make her character look afraid and/or vulnerable.

With the one-shot thing going on and her character being one of like four people in the whole darn movie, we spend almost every second of the film with Olsen.  And while this might not be the Oscar caliber performance I saw in her last film, Olsen is easily the top reason to see this version of the Silent House.  Though the film is technically on par with almost every shiny Americanized horror remake and the ending is - y'know what, I'm just not gonna talk about the ending again - I really do think her work makes this a must see film for horror fans who crave something fresh.  The emotions are all over the map - just like a young woman's emotions might be if they were trapped in a dark house with an ominous stalker - and they're handled with such flair by the diminutive 23 year-old. 

With one of the best performances to hit American horror in a long time carrying the burden, Silent House doesn't need to do a lot more to be a worthwhile viewing experience. Directors Chris Kentis & Laura Lau - who helmed the similarly gritty and tense Open Water in 2003 - handle things well through most of the film, providing a couple of good jumps and a fine sense of dread that doesn't seem to telegraph scares.  It all leads up a series of moments that change the landscape of the film entirely (the ending does not follow the original's path entirely, so fans of the first film might want to check themselves early) which is what a lot of people are going to focus in on.  But I'm happy to give props to a wonderful performance and ignore the mess of an ending here, and in the end I think I can recommend Silent House due to the lead's fine work.  There are a lot of young actresses trying to make a name for themselves right now, plenty of whom are spending time in horror cinema, and it's been a long while since I've seen one who is as promising as Elizabeth Olsen is.


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Elizabeth Olsen.

LJRich said...

I would agree on the thing about freaking out about movie endings, but I do have some cases where it's unforgivable in a horror setting. Like the end of the Last Exorcism, which is in my view a textbook case of a time when freaking out about movie endings is entirely warranted. The Last Exorcism had two things that ruined it, the ending and the found footage premise. Both totally unforgivable.