Basic Plot: Sarah (Elizabth Olsen) is helping her father John (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) repair an old Victorian house to live in and sell. The house doesn't have power, and as night falls Sarah discovers there is a intruder in the house, and she must find a way to hide and survive.
The main promotion for this film was that it is filmed in real time. Now, obviously all 88 minutes were not filmed in one shot, but the movie does indeed have the appearance of being uncut. Like Hitchcock's The Rope, this film attempts to show you events that unfold in real time, so you are literally not missing a second of the story. The advantage of this is that every small struggle (unlocking a door, running on foot, waiting for a killer to walk past) is displayed in full, without cutting away. and in turn brings us closer to the film. It adds realism. We believe that these things are happening, and it does heighten the suspense to see a killer take his time to slowly approach a room, flashlight in hand, in which the lead character is hiding. Silent House suceeds, and at points excels at this, so from a technical standpoint it is a well made film.
To harp on this for slightly longer, there are indeed moments where the cinematography is quite beautiful, with inventive camera movement and utilizing what little light there is in the Victorian house. However, a movie cannot duck behind its camerawork and not get called on for questions about its other aspects. You didn't do all your homework, Silent House. Here's what you forgot to do.
1. Have supporting characters who can act
- Elizabeth Olsen has received well-deserved praise for her acting in this film. She's the perfect horror movie blonde, appearing legitmately frightened and traumatized when she needs to. There's a great bit (it's in the movie poster above) where she hides under a table while the intruder is steps way from her, and she struggles for an excrutiating amount of time to stay quiet. The fear is on her face, and I've always thought that horror movies need good actors otherwise they lose their horror. If people aren't scared, then neither are we, and while I didn't think Silent House is particularly terrifying, it is suspenseful and a good deal of that is due to Olsen's performance.
However, the fewer characters the movie has, the more important their acting ability becomes. It's ok that the actor for General Salazar in Traffic was overacting a bit because there are characters falling out of the sky and the movie fucking rocks. A small horror piece like this one needs spot on acting from all three players, and only Olsen delivers. Trese and Stevens are dull, stiff, lame and completely unconvincing in this movie. They also seem sketchy, which makes sense in later context, but it's not a believable kind of sketchy, it's the amateur, reading-off-cue-cards kind, like when Hayden Christenssen decides the best way to look evil is to furrow his eyebrows as intensely as possible. The two male actors in this movie simply cannot act, and their failing to do so is a constant annoyance. Thankfully, the movie focuses mostly on the character of Sarah.
2. Stop with the jump scares
- The best moments of this film of the suspenseful ones: when you are waiting for something awful to happen, when the intruder is closing in on Sarah. The worst is when the movie just has something make a loud noise to startle you. This is fine for a couple times, but once you have several, in a span of twenty minutes, it gets a bit annoying.
3. Tell Elizabeth Olsen how to cry
- Again, she's really good in the movie, don't get me wrong. But there are a couple scenes where she's sobbing, and I had such trouble getting over the fact she sounds like she's laughing hysterically. I realize laughing and crying are somewhat similar sounds, but there comes a point where they are unmistakenly separate, and Olsen kept blurring the line. You're about to be killed, not watching Fail videos on Youtube.
4. Don't let your ending murder the movie
- Silent House would be in the 6-10 category on this site even with the above problems, except that the ending was complete shit. And what a movie ending is in and of itself is the last way to affect a viewer before it's all over. It's the knockout punch. Some are serene, calming endings while others are boisterous and dramatic. A trend I'm starting to see in "Thrillers" is trying to be clever and artsy in the ending, which is fine except the endings always turn out the same, and with everyone doing it it just becomes stupid. Every since The Sixth Sense, movies have tried to capitalize on the twist ending concept, but it's over now. I'm sorry. That ship has not only sailed it has crashed into a set of rocks and exploded with fish gobbling up the remains of its passengers.
- The ending is so stupid it's beyond words. It reminds me so much of The Devil Inside in that it spends so much time slowly building momentum and once it's due to deliver, it stumbles on itself. Without spoiling anything specific, it's one of those "it was all a dream" type endings, which is the worst way to end this movie for a few reasons. One, if the movie was trying to be clever or original, it failed because half of horror movies in the past decade have used this trick. Two, the entire appeal of this movie was that it's filmed in real time. The producers promoted the fuck out of that concept, and the whole point of watching a movie in real time is that it feels, well, real. You believe what's happening. You're a fly on the wall. Yet by adding something dramatic and supernatural to a movie that feels more like a documentary the film collapses in on itself. It becomes staged, silly, and loses all its fear. Which brings me to my third point which is that the problem with such an ending is that it nullifies everything leading up to that point, instead of enhancing it. Endings of The Sixth Sense or Fight Club work as twists because you can rewatch the films and notice all the little hints along the way. It adds another layer to the films as a whole. It blows your mind. This ending was fucking stupid. It doesn't make you want to rewatch the film, it makes you want your 88 minutes back.
- Why? Because it just doesn't work. It's feels amateur. And like I said before, the main excitement is that the movie feels real, and when you take that away, there's nothing left. You're literally telling us that everything we had just witnssed didn't matter, and are commanding us, at the last minute, to accept this entirely new reality. And just when you're trying to understand what the hell is happening, the movie ends. There's no conviction. It's like watching a grade school play where a prop breaks or a kid's costume falls apart or the plastic castle in the back tips over, and the curtain is hastily yanked down to cover it up. Then there's an awkward silence, followed by hesitant clapping by the kids' parents.
- But we are not parents of the cast and crew here. We are paying customers who want to be entertained. And on that note, Silent House gave us all the ultimate blue balls. You gave us a decent, suspenseful movie, and then tacked on a lame, unoriginal ending that ruined everything that happened before it. I wish I could reccomend this film for its technical heights. I wish I could tell you to go see it but stop watching at a certain point, but you won't. You can't. It's impossible to get sucked into a film and then arbitrarily switch it off, even if you've been told you won't like the finale. So don't see it, it'll just piss you off. And to the writers, producers, and directors of this movie, I suggest someone bitchslap you with a poster of 28 Days Later so you know to finish up a thriller without making people curse and flip off the screen.
What Could Have Saved It: Follow your own movie's logic and atmosphere and give us a real ending.