This oddity, which was nearly unanimously rejected by filmgoers during a brief March, 2012 release (it scored a dreaded ‘F’ on its CinemaScore rating), is a remake of a 2010 Uruguayan film, La casa muda. The gimmick is that its story unfolds in real time, appearing to have been shot in one continuous take (in fact, there are numerous “hidden” cuts throughout). It’s a daunting trick, but also an old one—Alfred Hitchcock achieved the effect over 60 years ago with Rope (1948).
Of course, back when Hitchcock did it, there weren’t handheld digital cameras available. The crew had to lay dolly tracks and push around a 35 mm camera rig that was closer in size to a refrigerator. And to justify all the trouble, Hitchcock made sure he had a suspenseful and intriguing story to tell. Co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) had the conveniences of modern technology at their disposal, but they stretched a story that might have made a mediocre Twilight Zone episode into an 86 minute feature.
The plot is the very definition of simplicity. Elizabeth Olsen stars as Sarah, a teenager who is helping her father, John (Adam Trese), and uncle, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), prepare their lakefront house for sale. The huge, multi-level house is loaded with furniture and all manner of junk. The windows are boarded up and black mold is growing behind the drywall. Sarah stumbles around with an electric lantern, half-heartedly tossing stuff into boxes. Soon after Peter leaves, Sarah begins hearing unusual thumps and other noises, causing her enough alarm to insist her dad check it out. But then she somehow loses track of him, finding herself alone in the dark house. She begins catching glimpses of people, including a young girl and a zombie-like older man, stalking her at every turn.
That’s pretty much the gist of it. Is the house haunted? Are people squatting there who are now tormenting the rightful owners, who they view as intruders? Or is there possibly a more surprising, complex explanation? Saying anything further would really negate the entire movie. The movie does have a knockout performance by Elizabeth Olsen, who ramps up into hyperventilating hysteria in an entirely convincing way. Once fear overcomes her and she loses her grip on reality, Olsen perfectly conveys the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare you can’t wake up from. In its best moments, that’s what Silent House feels like—a realistically-staged bad dream. The third act does, in fact, reveal a twist but since there’s so little going on, plot wise, you may have a pretty good idea where it’s going long before it gets there.