Thursday, March 8, 2012

'Silent House' makes little horror noise

Elizabeth Olsen quakes and trembles, but fails to blow this house down.

I'm glad I saw Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy Mae Marlene before I saw Silent House, a new horror film from the husband-and-wife directorial team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. I'm also glad I saw Kentis and Lau's 2004 Open Water -- a highly effective movie about divers fighting off sharks -- before I showed up for a preview screening of the far less impressive Silent House. I'm saying that there's real talent behind Silent House, which was designed to look as if it had been shot in one continuous take, unfolding in real time. It's an interesting idea, but the picture doesn't have enough to offer, unless you've been yearning to watch Olsen quake, tremble, cry and snivel her way through what initially appears to be a pretty standard haunted house movie. The set-up: Sarah (Olsen) is helping her dad (Adam Trese) spiff up a summer house that he's planning to sell. Also along for the ride is dad's brother (Eric Sheffer Stevens). For a movie called Silent House, it's interesting that Kentis and Lau rely heavily on sound to build tension in the isolated country home that serves as movie's principal setting: We hear ominous foot steps, a fair measure of creaking and lots of things that go bang in the dark. We also catch glimpses of sights that are meant to chill as they hover eerily on the movie's periphery. I'm not going to reveal more of the plot, but I will tell you that I had little trouble figuring out the general direction in which the situation was headed. And if you play Silent House back in your mind, it may not hold up the way the most fiendishly clever horror movies do. Credit Kentis and Lau for not always going for obvious jolts, but in sum, Silent House seems like an undernourished attempt to freshen a weary genre. It's also no compliment to say that Silent House sometimes feels as if it's only a few steps ahead of the latest found-footage foray into contemporary horror.*

*Silent House is based on a Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda.

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