From the makers of the cruddy, Rex Reed-goosing Open Water, in which a scuba-diving couple probably gets eaten by sharks for doing gallingly yuppie things like talking on their cellphones and checking email, comes Silent House, a really noisy remake of an Uruguayan film that was also shot in one continuous take. Or at least that’s the impression given by Igor Martinovic’s seamless camera, which doesn’t ever appear to look away from the film’s action in order to disguise an edit, a la Hitchcock’s Rope, but to allow for some terror to strategically move in and out of its main character’s purview—and for the set dresser to squirt fake blood into a bathtub. For sure, this is an impressively choreographed feat of cinematographic art, but the novelty ends there, not because Martha Marcy May Marlene already proved that the gifted Elizabeth Olsen has, at the very least, some kind of future as an existentially panged scream queen, but because it’s all in service of a story that’s less frightening than it is risible
Silent House dies a sudden and egregious death when the amateur players in Olsen’s company, Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens, as her character Sarah’s father and uncle, respectively, open their traps. It’s not their fault that the spitballish, Facebook-referencing, for-our-benefit-only dialogue is so relentlessly cringe-inducing (“Thank you, brother” is the sublime means by which we’re tipped off to the characters’ family ties). What is, though, is their skeevy delivery. (Major spoilers ahead!) These early-fortysomething actors play John and Peter as overzealous jocks who towel-whip their asses after raping the school’s head cheerleader in the hot tub, which, after both characters are unbelievably given the same exact panicked scene in which they clumsily try to hide Polaroids from Sarah, is revealed to be not too far off the mark.
For half its running time, and this is even after Sarah tellingly declares that she has “holes in her head” (not unlike—hello metaphor!—the mold eating away at the house’s walls) for not remembering a childhood friend who comes knocking at the front door, the film delivers a sustained chill as Sarah runs around her floorboard-creaking manse, first investigating a series of loud sounds, then hiding from the person who grabs her beneath the dining room table and probably knocked her father out and hid him in a closet. From upstairs bedroom to creepy basement, the film teases you first with the possibility that some vengeance-mongering person may be living in the house on the sly, then with the thrill of Sarah finally, euphorically making it outside. It’s The Blair Witch Project, [Rec], and Them rolled into one, and it’s almost fun, until you realize something’s the matter with Sarah.
The appearance of a mysterious little girl on the road just outside the house, where Sarah bumps into stupid Uncle Pete as he returns from town, isn’t the only clue that this is just some junky, punishingly literal-minded “psychological” thriller with a sick twist up its sleeve, but it is one of the more glaring ones. There’s also the blood-spilling toilet that hangs from the bathroom wall, the ghoulie that drags the injured John around the house but doesn’t seem to actually see Sarah, and those cute little legs that hang over the pool table under which a scared Sarah ducks for cover—at which point you shake your head at the horror that a bunch of assholes came together one day and thought it would be really cool, and scary, to remake a film in which the audience realizes at the same time as its messed-up main character that she was sexually molested. This is an offensive premise for any movie, but it’s one that could have passed the bullshit test if the victim’s retribution was presented to us as a liberation for the character and not as genre titillation.