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Film Review: Silent House

25th April 2012

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If you’ve heard anything about it at all, you probably won’t be expecting much from indie horror flick and Sundance alumnus Silent House.

The film is centred on Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley and much-lauded star of last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene.

That film scored rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. It was nominated for award after award, and won a respectable amount of them.

It is fairly safe to say that Olsen’s latest offering will not enjoy the same success.

The premise is that of a thousand horror films that have come before, the vast majority of which have been done better: vulnerable girl gets terrorised by unknown forces in remotely located, barely visited, crumbling old house. Eventually she manages to break out and run off down the road, before inexplicably ending up back inside the house again, where things quickly get worse.

Silent House reminds me of 2008’s The Strangers, without the scares.

It really, really wants to be a tense, psychologically-driven slow-burner. It definitely tries – it’s all blacked-out windows, less than subtle bumps from upstairs and trembling close-ups of Olsen’s face. Attempts at a Blair Witch-style shaky camera affect fall flat, mainly because Olsen’s Sarah spends the entire time running around in circles, terrifying herself because the floorboards are creaking and she’s scared of her dad (more of that later).

Obviously, the terror (if you could call it that – I’m a certified horror wuss and even I didn’t watch Silent House through my fingers) is compounded by the fact that there is no electricity or phone signal at the lake house. Of course there isn’t.

Silent House has a slow start, but it isn’t a slow-burner.

Pretty soon Sarah is descending into the unlit cellar with a torch –like you of course would in such circumstances. Later, when she manages to break outside, she spends a bit of time stumbling inexplicably through bushes.

And then the absolute classic scary film trope comes out, hovering at the side of the side of the road menacingly. Why are little girls so prevalent in horror films? Is an original idea really too much to ask for?

By this point, I’m sufficiently bored. Considering that the film is only 85 minutes long, this is clearly a bad sign.

Most criticisms of Silent House seem to focus on the ending, which is being universally derided as implausible. I’d disagree, but only slightly. The ending provides the only action that has happened throughout the whole film. The revelation is ridiculous, but only because there is nothing over the previous 70 minutes to suggest that it’s coming. It could have worked – but as it is it just seems like it has been tacked on because they weren’t sure how else to finish.

Also, without giving away too much, Sarah appears to have the psychological reactions of a Pavlov dog. We don’t know anything about the characters either, aside from the fact that, in an awkward attempt to throw some pop culture into the film’s opening minutes, we are told that Sarah’s dad has been following her Facebook activity and doesn’t approve of her getting back together with her ex-boyfriend. A few minutes later, Sarah tells us that she isn’t in university and doesn’t really have a plan. This is all we learn about her, and as a consequence we don’t care in any way when the emotional stuff does start.

Good points? Elizabeth Olsen has a fairly expressive face. Which is a good thing, because the film doesn’t give her much else to work with.


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