Silent House

The horror genre has become lind of an arms race ni formal gimmickry lately, with the Paranormal Activity films setting off a found-footage bonanza, and now with Open Water‘s Chris Kentis and Laura Lau offering a Russian Ark take on the haunted house flick.  Shot in what looks like a single 85-minute take (actually a small handful of shorter ones) and presented in “real time,” Silent House is well-engineered and reasonably spooky. It is also sorely wanting in the story department; an express train from vague to trite making no intermediate stops.

The film’s scares are mostly of the “What the hell is going on?” variety — Kentis and Lau’s handheld camera whirls madly around its teenage protagonist (Elizabeth Olsen) as she investigates mysterious bumps and noises in her large, stuffy childhood home. Mysterious shapes appear in the blurry background, then vanish; an unknown man with a flashlight seems to be prowling the basement. A supporting character turns up bloodied and apparently dead. You know the drill — except that Silent House is so wishy-washy that it’s not clear even what manner of threat our hero is facing. It doesn’t feel, sadly, like a plunge into the terrifying unknown; instead, it feels like a gimmicky horror flick that doesn’t know what it wants to scare us with.

Silent House‘s one-take choreography is impressive (if also a stunt screaming for attention), and a couple set pieces (such as a scene illuminated only by occasional camera flashes) are undeniably fun. But the real-time gimmick and the film’s refusal to commit to being about anything make it hard to be drawn in. And the ending, which stupidly rehashes the hoariest horror movie revelation known to man, is insulting nonsense. Formal gimmick and all, Silent House reads far better on paper than it plays on the screen.

-- Eugene Novikov

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